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TOR@TB: Escobar cranks a solo shot to left-center

ST. PETERSBURG -- It might not have been pretty, but Kyle Drabek still found a way to get the job done.

Toronto's second-year hurler struggled with his fastball command again on Monday, but for at least one night, the high number of balls out of the strike zone didn't come back to haunt him.

Drabek tied his season high with six walks, but managed to get through six innings while Yunel Escobar added a home run to lead the Blue Jays to a 6-2 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.

"The first three innings I kept spiking my fastball again and it got me in a little trouble," said Drabek, who has allowed two runs or less in seven of his nine starts this year. "I think the fourth, fifth, and sixth [innings], those walks I had no problem with but those early walks tend to get to me.

"Just with the two-seamer, aiming for a low strike, but I throw it too low and then it hits the dirt and J.P. [Arencibia] and Jeff [Mathis] have to wear it."

Drabek's lack of command is turning into an ongoing storyline during the month of May. He has now walked 19 batters in his past 22 1/3 innings and most of the issues can be tied back to his two-seam fastball.

The 24-year-old aims low with the pitch only to see it dip well below the strike zone and often into the dirt. He was able to rectify that during his last start against the Yankees by aiming high and letting the ball drop into the zone, which is something the club opted to do again on Monday.

The altered plan of attack helped lead to a strong finish, but Drabek also believes part of his struggles early in games can be related to coming out with too much intensity.

"The effort level I had in it in the last three innings was 100 percent rather than 110 early on," said Drabek, who threw a career high 118 pitches. "Which has been something that I've been trying to fix a little bit is the first few innings I come up there and 110 effort level, when in the bullpen I'm 100 percent and everything is doing exactly what I want it to."

Drabek's night got off to a rough start in the first inning when B.J. Upton lifted a ball to center field. Colby Rasmus raced back to where he thought the deep fly was headed but when he turned around the ball was nowhere to be seen.

A split second later, Rasmus saw the ball drop well short of where he originally thought it would land. The play was originally ruled a double, but upon a video review, it was changed to a solo home run because the umpires said it hit the B-ring catwalk.

Drabek surrendered another run in the third on an RBI single by Sean Rodriguez and appeared headed for a short night on the mound. The native of Texas had thrown 75 pitches through those three innings, but managed to settle down from that point on and go relatively deep into the game.

That enabled Drabek to become the first American League pitcher to walk at least six batters, throw at least three wild pitches and still earn a victory since Juan Guzman did it with Texas on July 15, 1994.

"We definitely self-inflicted," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Drabek, who allowed just the two runs on three hits. "Drabek really threw a lot of pitches, he did not want to throw the ball over the plate and he tested our patience. We had opportunities, we just couldn't get the appropriate hit against him."

Toronto opened the scoring in the second inning off right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. J.P. Arencibia reached base on a fielder's choice and then advanced to second on an error where he would later come around to score on an RBI single by Eric Thames.

Rasmus sparked another rally in the following inning with a leadoff double. Hellickson would later surrender a sacrifice fly to Kelly Johnson, which temporarily put the Blue Jays in front 2-1.

The big blow didn't occur until the sixth inning when Escobar hit a one-out homer. Escobar's second of the year came on the first pitch and went over the wall in left-center field. Hellickson surrendered five runs -- two earned -- on eight hits with one walk and three strikeouts.

Toronto broke the game open in the eighth, scoring three additional runs. A throwing error by Rodriguez allowed the first two runs to cross the plate, while a botched double play attempt by Tampa Bay enabled the final Blue Jays' tally of the game.

"There were timely hits," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "Yunel's home run was a big one. Colby swung the bat exceptionally well tonight, he squared three balls up. It's good to see him start to pick up and maybe build on yesterday's game against the Mets and into tonight."

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