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B.J. Upton's swings making right sound for Tampa Bay Rays this spring training

B.J. Upton, who’s batting .350 in the spring, lashes a two-run double into the right-centerfield gap in the fourth inning.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

B.J. Upton, who’s batting .350 in the spring, lashes a two-run double into the right-centerfield gap in the fourth inning.

PORT CHARLOTTE — CF B.J. Upton has looked good much of the spring, but sometimes the sound of his at-bats can be more telling.

And after a 3-for-3 day that included two hits to the right side, a double walloped into the right-center gap and a single through the second-base hole, both he and manager Joe Maddon were excited by what they heard.

"That's me," Upton said. "That's something I've done my whole life, and to be able to do that felt good. … I haven't had that feeling in a while. That's a good sign."

Maddon said Upton, who hit .239 over 2009-10, still has some adjustments to refine, but he likes what the 26-year-old has done so far (while hitting .350 for the spring) after extensive winter work.

"He's still battling with a couple little things, but I loved it," Maddon said. "That's the loud sound we're used to, and I love it when he's in right-center hard like that. … That's the goal right there, that kind of approach. And if he does that, he's going to have a very good year."

RALLY RAYS: For the second day, the Rays (4-7-2) rallied to tie Toronto in the ninth then scored a walkoff win, this time 4-3 in 11.

INF Omar Luna, who with the rest of the Rays' minor-leaguers reported Wednesday for physicals and the first workout of the spring, ended up not only unexpectedly in the game but as the star.

Luna, 24, made a run-saving throw to the plate while playing shortstop in the top of the ninth, singled with two outs in the bottom and scored the tying run on John Jaso's double, then singled with two outs in the 11th to score Robinson Chirinos, who had doubled, with the winner.

"It's exciting," Luna said. "Elliot Johnson said I make it look easy."

CATCHING ON: The Jays stole eight bases against Jaso over the final four innings (and nine overall). Maddon said Jaso's problem was mechanical in getting the ball out of his glove. "He's got to be better with the transfer," Maddon said. "He's just making a little mistake with that. Very correctable — it's not awful." … Jaso and Kelly Shoppach each threw out a runner. … Maddon is sorting out playing time as he would in-season, with Jaso facing righties and Shoppach lefties.

GAME DETAILS: RHP Jeff Niemann was pleased with his four shutout innings, allowing four hits and a walk and throwing 59 pitches, 33 strikes. "That's how it's supposed to go," he said. … The Rays lost a 2-0 lead when Dane De La Rosa gave up three in a rough fifth, then rallied. … RF Matt Joyce made a nice running catch at the wall. … Maddon noted several mistakes, including missed signs.

AND IN ST. PETE: A squad of nonroster players beat the Nether­lands 4-3 in the Rays' first appearance at St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field since March 2008, with an announced crowd of 3,003 on hand. OF Chris Carter had two doubles, and INF Cole Figueroa, acquired from the Padres in the Jason Bartlett trade, had the biggest hit, a two-out, two-run bases-loaded single that put the Rays up 3-1 in the seventh. … RHPs and bullpen candidates Chris Bootcheck, Dirk Hayhurst and Cory Wade threw well.

MEDICAL MATTERS: SS Reid Brignac (groin tightness) is due to return today, having been out a week. … OF Brandon Guyer (groin tightness) will be out a few days. … INF/OF Ben Zobrist returned after missing a week with a sore right ankle. He went 0-for-3, made a nice play backing up a throw and said he felt fine.

MISCELLANY: The Rays today get their first look at ex-teammate Carl Crawford in a Red Sox uniform. … Today marks the first of five spring TV games. … Expect Manny Ramirez to play leftfield and Johnny Damon to DH. … St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster donned a Netherlands jersey and a pair of Dutch wooden shoes to throw out the first pitch at the Al Lang game, part of the International Baseball schedule… The frontline players will make the weekend trips to Clearwater and Dunedin. … Former Rays manager Lou Piniella made his first visit to Port Charlotte, scouting in his new job with the Giants.

Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

B.J. Upton's swings making right sound for Tampa Bay Rays this spring training 03/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 9:23pm]
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