The Tampa Bay Rays' homestand got off to a bad start, but they're starting to pick up steam.
The break-even point is within reach Saturday night when the Rays will face San Diego Padres right-hander Burch Smith in his major league debut.After opening with 18 of their first 30 on the road, the Rays (17-18) were hoping to make the most out of this extended run at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay, though, lost two straight to Toronto to open the 10-game stretch, beginning with an 8-7 defeat Monday when it led by seven after three innings.The Rays have bounced back nicely, winning two in a row over the Blue Jays and opening this three-game series with a 6-3 come-from-behind victory Friday. They scored four times in the seventh on two-run singles from Ryan Roberts and Ben Zobrist.Tampa Bay, 11-6 at home, was last at .500 on April 7 when it was 3-3.Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 4.79 ERA) will try to get the Rays back there. The right-hander, though, is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in his last three outings after a disappointing effort Monday when he lasted five innings after being staked to a 7-0 advantage. It was the first time Tampa Bay lost a lead of at least seven runs since an 11-10 loss to Cleveland on May 25, 2009."I just couldn't put away guys with two strikes," Hellickson, who walked four and yielded three runs, told the Rays' official website. "... It's pretty frustrating."San Diego (16-19) has to feel that way after striking out a season-worst 18 times Friday. Alex Cobb struck out 13 Padres in 4 2/3 innings, including four in the second. The only other time a Ray struck out four in one inning was Hellickson on Aug. 25, 2011.Smith will get his first start after getting called up from Double-A San Antonio to replace Clayton Richard, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an intestinal virus.Saturday was actually Andrew Cashner's turn in the rotation as the Padres had an off day Thursday, but he'll start Tuesday in Baltimore with Eric Stults getting the ball in Sunday's series finale.That opens the door for the 23-year-old Smith, a 14th-round pick in 2011 out of Oklahoma. He struck out 37 with six walks this spring and went 1-2 with a 1.15 ERA in six starts with San Antonio."He's got a big arm and a good, sound delivery," manager Bud Black told the Padres' official website. "He's thrown very well this season in Double-A. Our front office thinks very highly of this guy."Smith might need to be at his best as he'll face a Rays team hitting .297 and averaging 6.5 runs over the last 12 games.Corner infielders Evan Longoria and James Loney are batting a combined .414 (41 for 99) with 20 RBIs during that stretch.Padres right fielder Will Venable has three of his team-best five homers in the last five games after going deep Friday.Carlos Quentin also homered for San Diego after beginning the series on an 0-for-19 skid to open May. Quentin is batting .316 with six homers and 11 RBIs in his last 11 games at Tropicana Field.Tampa Bay is trying to equal a season high with a fourth consecutive home win.