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07/13/07 12:12 AM ET

Doc labors, turns in subpar outing

Halladay roughed up, Gibbons ejected in series opener

BOSTON -- It's been a trying season for Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays have grown accustomed to having their ace take the mound and consistently turn in dominating performances. To a certain extent, so has he.

That's one reason this year has been frustrating for the right-hander. Aside from dealing with the fluke appendectomy that sidelined him for three weeks in May, Halladay has experienced a handful of rough outings that have warranted a series of mechanical adjustments to his pitch arsenal.

On Thursday, Halladay labored through another subpar outing, giving the Blue Jays just five innings in a 7-4 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park -- a contest that saw Toronto manager John Gibbons get ejected and Jays reliever Scott Downs exit with an injury. Boston's hitters forced Halladay to throw an excessive amount of pitches over the first two frames while he attempted to gain control of his retooled repertoire.

"I definitely feel like it's been a little bit harder for me to get consistent, which in the past has been a little easier," Halladay said. "I've had these points over my career. Sometimes you get breaks and you get out of it. Other times, you've got to work at it.

"That's kind of what I'm doing now. You try to improve everything you can and make adjustments that need to be made. I just feel like I've had a lot more of those this year than in the past."

The loss was only Halladay's second in his last nine starts, but it marked third time in his last four outings in which the former American League Cy Young Award winner yielded five runs. Over those starts, Halladay (10-4) has gone 2-2 with a 6.85 ERA for the Blue Jays (43-45), who now sit 11 games behind the Red Sox (54-34) in the AL East.

In the first two innings against Boston, Halladay struggled to harness his curveball and he toiled through 71 pitches over that span. In the opening frame, in which Boston sent nine batters to the plate, Halladay threw 41 pitches and allowed the first four Red Sox hitters to reach base and score.

"The first couple innings, he wasn't locating the ball," Gibbons said. "He couldn't do much with his breaking ball. Then he settled in a little bit, but when you're not making good pitches, they're such a good-hitting team that they're going to get you. That's all it was. He wasn't making pitches."

Halladay issued four walks in the brief outing, marking the most free passes he'd allowed since walking five on May 21, 2004, also during a road game against Boston. He finished with 112 pitches, which matches the second-highest total he's thrown in any outing this year.

"It's just been harder for me to either get it down where I want it, or ahead, or early in the count, throwing it for a quality strike," said Halladay, referring to his curve. "That's been the biggest adjustment with that. We've made a little bit of a change and I feel like the movement's better. I'm not locating it as well as I would like to, as far as being able to get it over and then expand with it later on in counts."

Besides the curve, Halladay has also made a second change to his cut fastball -- a pitch that is now in its third stage this season. He said that if there was anything positive he could take from the outing in Boston, it was the fact that he was pleased with the cutter's movement and location.

"Early on [in the year], it was flat," Halladay said. "The second one, I kind of had a harder time locating it and wasn't as consistent with it. I feel a lot better with what we've been doing. The action's a lot better. The location is a lot better. I felt like that was one positive for me today."

Unfortunately, there was too many negatives to overcome for the Blue Jays. Over six innings, Toronto touched Boston starter Tim Wakefield (10-8) for four runs on nine hits, including consecutive home runs by Matt Stairs and Alex Rios in the sixth. The pair of blasts cut Toronto's deficit to one run, but Boston added two runs in the bottom of the sixth to move ahead, 7-4.

Gibbons made an early exit after a lengthy argument on the field with first-base umpire John Hirschbeck, who ruled Boston's Julio Lugo safe on a close play at first base in the seventh inning. Gibbons wanted the Hirschbeck to appeal to home-plate umpire Las Diaz, but Hirschbeck stuck with his decision and then ejected Toronto's manager from the game.

"He thought he was safe," Gibbons said with a shrug. "That's basically it. I tried to get help, but he wouldn't do that. That's his call."

After the antics, Toronto called Downs from the bullpen. In the eighth, Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia sent a line drive off the left-hander's right foot, which sent Downs falling to the ground and later limping off the field. An X-ray after the game revealed no structural damage for Downs, who escaped with some swelling and a bruise.

Downs may be feeling some pain in the morning, but Halladay insists his recent woes have nothing to do with an undisclosed injury. Halladay said his issues this year simply stem from the constant adjustments he's been forced to make.

"I feel good. It's nothing physically," he said. "I'm just trying to make some changes and adjustments that I feel are going to help. You're always trying to figure out ways to improve things and sometimes that involves a little bit of change."

More so this year than in the past.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.