ST. PETERSBURG — CF B.J. Upton was not happy with manager Joe Maddon's decision to drop him from the leadoff spot to seventh in the Rays lineup.
"I'm a little upset but I guess I brought that on myself," Upton said.
Maddon thought long and hard about the switch, which first entered his mind a month ago and was cemented after Sunday's loss. He plans to keep SS Jason Bartlett atop the order "for a bit" in an attempt to take some pressure off Upton and get both him and the offense going.
Upton said he would do what he could to help the team. Willy Aybar started at DH for the second straight game, with Maddon saying they want to get him in the lineup more (including at second base, which would move Ben Zobrist to the outfield). DH Pat Burrell, however, is expected to return to the lineup by tonight or this weekend, with Upton's switch lasting longer.
"Obviously I haven't been producing up there so maybe it's time for a change," Upton said. "Just deal with it and move on. Do what I can to get back up there. … It's his team, he can do what he wants to do. Like I said, I'll help this team any way I can. And if he feels the best way for me to do that is in the seventh spot or wherever it may be, that's what I'll do."
Upton is hitting .242 in the leadoff spot, but his on-base percentage has dipped to .317, which is Maddon's primary area of concern. He wants to "take the pressure off him to jump-start the offense" and wants Upton to show more discipline at the plate and "reorganize his strike zone."
Upton also discounted the theory that he was putting additional pressure on himself from the leadoff spot. "No, not at all," he said. "I take the same approach regardless of what spot I'm in."
Bartlett, meanwhile, said he was up for the challenge of hitting leadoff. "Whatever he wants; I'm ready to go either way," he said. "I've been in that nine hole pretty much all year, and Joe always said it's like another leadoff spot after that first (at-bat). That lineup just keeps turning over so it really doesn't matter. I'll get one more AB, and hopefully it'll turn out for the best."
BACK ON TRACK: Burrell spent more than half an hour doing early batting practice and small ball under the watchful eye and instruction of Maddon. Maddon said Burrell, who is hitting .226 and has 11 strikeouts this homestand, is working on some small mechanical adjustments.
"The biggest thing we've been talking about is the way he starts his swing, actually," Maddon said. "It's nothing really complicated."
FLASHBACK: LHP David Price will get to face the Red Sox for the first time since he closed them out in Game 7 of the ALCS, an experience he said he'll never forget, one "where I put myself on the map."
Price, 23, had picked up his first big-league win in Game 2 of the ALCS, getting the final two outs in the 11th inning. And in Game 7, he picked up the final four outs, including striking out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded.
"I remember it all," Price said. "Pitch by pitch."
That being said, Price said tonight's start presents a new challenge.
"This is going to be different than that," he said. "This is a new year, a new game. They've got a different team, we've got a little different team. It's going to be a different feel out there. But it's going to be fun."
MINOR MATTERS: OF Fernando Perez is scheduled to hit in a simulated session today in Port Charlotte before beginning a rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Rays Thursday, moving up to the Charlotte Stone Crabs Saturday. … The Rays' average attendance on the home-stand is 30,467 (243,735 total). … 3B Evan Longoria has homered in six of his past 21 games.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com