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Thrown for a loop

Gabbard is shaky in jump to majors

SEATTLE -- Kason Gabbard walked to the couch in the visitors' clubhouse at Safeco Field before last night's game against the Mariners. He tapped Curt Schilling, who was doing a crossword puzzle, on the shoulder, and the two shook hands. They're teammates for the time being, and Gabbard technically owed this particular opportunity to the right shoulder tendinitis that landed Schilling on the disabled list.

But after doing all the right things in the clubhouse, Gabbard couldn't carry that poise to the mound, where, in place of Schilling, he turned in the shortest appearance for any Boston starter all season -- and yet, remarkably, managed to keep the Red Sox in the game.

After it appeared that Gabbard wouldn't make it through a first inning that saw one hit, one hit batter, four walks, and three runs, nothing was quite as surprising as when, in the fifth inning, his teammates took him off the hook for the loss in the Mariners' 8-7 win.

"Warming up in the bullpen, I felt great," Gabbard said. "I just got out of the groove a little bit, then I couldn't really get back in the groove.

"I just think when I was out of the stretch, I was a little bit too quick. Obviously, my two-seamer was sailing a lot, and when I'm not throwing that for strikes, it's difficult to pitch."

With Schilling likely to miss at least one or two more starts, Gabbard has been penciled in to pitch in his absence as the choice over Jon Lester, a decision based on Gabbard's stellar record in Triple A this season. He is tied for fourth in the International League with seven wins, and his ERA stands ninth at 3.24. In his last four starts with the PawSox, Gabbard was 3-0 with a 2.88 ERA.

That, of course, was in a different world.

But manager Terry Francona reiterated he intends to use Gabbard in Schilling's spot for the foreseeable future.

Though he was off target with his pitches -- and exhibiting facial expressions that didn't inspire confidence -- Gabbard gathered himself enough for an inning-ending double play in the first (thanks to a great turn by Dustin Pedroia) and another in the second. But after he allowed two hits and another walk with one out in the fourth, his evening ended in favor of Manny Delcarmen, though his team trailed only 4-2.

"He struggled with his command," Francona said. "Lot of pitches, lot of deep counts, walks, hit batsmen. The one thing that sticks out, even through all the troubles, he's always one pitch away from a double play because he's got that two-seam movement. He's just got to trust his stuff and throw strikes."

It wasn't quite like his last start -- two runs allowed to the Braves in five innings -- but Gabbard did leave the team with a chance to win, especially with Felix Hernandez not at his best. And the Red Sox indeed tied the score at 4-4 and again at 6-6 before Richie Sexson sent a Javier Lopez pitch to right in the sixth inning for a two-run home run.

Gabbard had come into the game on point, striking out Ichiro Suzuki to begin his outing, but followed by allowing the next six batters to reach: walk, single, walk, hit batter, walk, walk, with three runs scoring.

By the time Gabbard finally ended the first, he had thrown 43 pitches. He'd thrown 73 by the end of the third, and finished the game with 82. Just 39 of those were strikes.

"I don't think he gets rattled," Francona said. "I thought his arm slot was inconsistent tonight. But that happens with all pitchers."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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