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TB@CWS: Hellickson fans eight over six innings

The season is just over a month old, but the early hole the Blue Jays find themselves in continues to deepen with each series loss. They will have a fresh start beginning Monday against the Rays.

The Jays managed to avoid being swept by the Mariners and ended a four-game losing streak with a 10-2 win in the series finale Sunday, but they have still won only one series this year and have dropped 10 of their last 13 games.

"We're digging a pretty big hole right now," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "There's no question about it."

A team laden with All-Stars and high expectations has largely disappointed from the onset, falling to last place in the always-contentious American League East. They were outscored, 25-3, in their four games before Sunday.

"As hard as it is, I'm always optimistic," Gibbons said. "I know how the game works. Things can change in a hurry. ... There's no question this business takes a toll on you. Especially this stretch, where it's a constant bombardment."

The Toronto offense will most likely face similar challenges this week at Tropicana Field, where the teams kick off a crucial four-game series Monday. The Rays enter Monday in fourth place in the division but with a four-game advantage on the last-place Blue Jays.

And the Blue Jays know a series against the Rays always comes with formidable pitching matchups. Tampa Bay will send right-hander Jeremy Hellickson to the hill for the opener, as he looks for his second win of the year.

Hellickson, who is 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA in six career starts against Toronto, allowed four runs on nine hits en route to a five-inning no-decision Wednesday against the Royals.

"I haven't been as consistent as I want," Hellickson said. "There was a three-game stretch there where I felt as good as I ever have, and then those last two games have been awful, pretty terrible."

Hellickson said he knows what he is up against Monday.

"They have a lot of the same guys," he said. "A lot of really good hitters. I know they're not playing to their potential right now, but on any given day the offense can get started, and with the offense they have it could be any day, so I'm going to have to go out and be a little better."

Blue Jays: Buehrle goes for win No. 2
Toronto will send veteran Mark Buehrle to the hill for the series opener, as he also looks for his second win of the year. The left-hander has struggled in his first season with the Blue Jays, and he surrendered three homers for the second consecutive outing in his last start against Boston.

"I have to make better pitches," said Buehrle, who has a 6.43 ERA. "[I] have to keep the ball down, execute pitches and stay low in the zone."

• Adam Lind has drawn a walk in eight of his last 11 games dating back to April 15. Prior to that, he had drawn only three.

Rays: Welcome back to the Trop
The Rays should welcome their return to Tropicana Field this week. After Sunday's win over the Rockies in their series finale in Colorado, the Rays were 4-5 on their latest road stretch and 6-12 overall in road games this year.

Tampa Bay will be opening a 10-game, 11-day homestand against the Blue Jays, Padres and Red Sox. The Rays are 8-4 at home this season.

• Over his last 17 games played (beginning April 17), first baseman James Loney has hit .528 (28-for-53) to raise his batting average more than 230 points, from .167 to .398.

Worth noting
• Toronto's Casey Janssen has recorded seven saves in as many opportunities this year. He has notched a save in each of his last 13 chances and 29 of his last 31 dating back to May 9, when he took over as closer.

• The Rays have given up a lead in 11 of their 16 losses this season. In 2012, they gave up the lead in 34 of their 72 losses.

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