The Tampa Bay Rays were forced to put Erik Bedard in their rotation last month after they lost two more starters to injuries, and it didn't look like the veteran left-hander would stay there very long following his first two turns.
Bedard, though, has turned things around and will try to win three straight starts for the first time in nearly five years Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series against the surging Los Angeles Angels.Jeremy Hellickson had elbow surgery in the winter, causing him to start the season on the disabled list, and Matt Moore and Alex Cobb joined him on the DL not long after.Tampa Bay (18-23) purchased Bedard's contract from Triple-A Durham on April 13, and he made one relief appearance before joining the rotation. Bedard went 0-1 with a 9.39 ERA in his first two starts, but he's 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in the last three."I'm always a slow starter so the first couple (starts) were rough, but after that you just get in the groove of things and throw strikes," said Bedard, who has allowed one or no runs in three straight starts for the first time since 2008.His best outing came Saturday, when he allowed one hit over six scoreless innings to beat Cleveland 7-1. Bedard (2-1, 3.38 ERA) last won three starts in a row May 27-June 7, 2009, while with Seattle."He has a good feel for pitching besides having some good stuff," manager Joe Maddon told the Rays' official website. "I think he's gotten better."Bedard has had good stuff the last few times he's faced the Angels (21-18). He held them to one run over seven innings of a 2-1 win at Anaheim on June 3 while pitching for Houston, improving to 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA in his last four matchups.The Rays enter this series after receiving a pair of solid pitching performances in back-to-back wins at Seattle. David Price struck out 12 while going the distance in Tuesday's 2-1 victory, and four pitchers combined on a two-hitter in a 2-0 win Wednesday.The Rays, however, lost second baseman Ben Zobrist after he dislocated his left thumb while sliding head first into second base on a steal attempt."I guess best case scenario is it heals very quickly and I can get back on the field, maybe within a week," Zobrist said. "That's unlikely I think and I think they're trying to decide whether I need to go on the DL or not."Bedard will be opposed by Tyler Skaggs (3-1, 4.14), who is also coming off an impressive outing. The left-hander gave up three runs and four hits while pitching into the ninth in Saturday's 5-3 victory at Toronto, one start after allowing six runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings of a 14-3 home loss to Texas."Tyler is really coming into his own, you can really see the maturation process," catcher Chris Iannetta told the Angels' official site. "He just keeps getting better and hopefully he just keeps learning how to pitch and learning how to execute."Skaggs is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in four starts at home compared to 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in three on the road.He'll look to help Los Angeles stay hot after it won 3-0 on Wednesday to sweep a two-game series against Philadelphia and finish 5-1 on its road swing."Great trip, man," Albert Pujols said. "... It's great. Hopefully we'll keep it going."The Angels, though, have lost 15 of 19 against the Rays in Anaheim.