ST. PETERSBURG — 1B Carlos Peña has picked key times to address his teammates before, most notably prior to Game 7 of the 2008 AL Championship Series.
And with the Rays losing 16 of 26 and manager Joe Maddon showing rare public displeasure on Tuesday, Peña felt the time was right again Wednesday.
He led a 10-minute players-only meeting before batting practice designed to reinforce that they're an "awesome team," and even though the route to success isn't going to be easy, it can still be traversed if the Rays just play their kind of game.
"I just wanted to remind the team or bring that point out so we all get back onto the same page and pull the rope in the same direction and not allow all the outside distractions to put extra pressure on ourselves or to take us off course from what we do," Peña said. "Because if we are just ourselves, everything takes care of itself."
Peña felt it was important to act now.
"It was just appropriate," he said. "We could ignore it and not pay attention to it. Or we could face it and all of a sudden you defuse the bomb. You kind of like shrink the giant. Yeah, you see his shadow, but when you actually look at it you're like, 'You know what, who cares guys? We're right there, let's play ball.'
"But if we just ignore it, the next thing you know it might become bigger than it really is. When you face it, you're like we're right there, everything is right where we want it to be, let's go play. It just makes it real, instead of that illusion of, Oh my God, the world is ending. No it's not, we're fine."
Several players said the timing and the tone of Peña's message were beneficial.
"Just to hear it as a team, as a group, to make sure we're all on the same page is probably a good thing, beneficial for us," RHP Jeff Niemann said.
FROM THE TOP: Executive VP Andrew Friedman attributed the extended skid to two things: a lack of consistency in their overall play (except perhaps the bullpen), and an evening out after their hot start.
"We weren't necessarily a .750 team, and we're definitely not a .500 team, so part of it is those things playing out over a longer period of time," he said.
And while they are "always evaluating" ways — internal and external — to improve, Friedman expects the current squad to perform better: "We're confident in this group and what they're capable of and feel strongly that over the course of more games that our true talent level will prevail."
KAPLER COMEBACK: OF Gabe Kapler could rejoin the Rays by early next week after a planned four-game rehab assignment with Class A Charlotte. Kapler said the right hip flexor strain that landed him on the DL is now feeling great. "I'm looking forward to coming back and helping this team win," he said.
Kapler's return could end the three-catcher alignment.
GARZA READY: RHP Matt Garza is determined today to make amends for his previous outing, saying the wrong "mind-set" led to the stunning lack of command that led him to throw 71 pitches and last just 11/3 innings.
"That was totally out of my personality, out of my area," he said. "I talked about it, thought about it. It was an absolute anomaly. It shouldn't happen again. It shouldn't have ever happened. But stuff like that does, so just go out there and correct it."
MISCELLANY: With an 0-for-5, Evan Longoria is now 4-for-31 over his past eight games. Maddon's only concern: "I don't want him to feel like he has to carry any kind of a load.'' … Maddon said RHP James Shields did nothing wrong and described the seventh-inning balk call as "a fabrication.'' … Sean Rodriguez's sixth-inning homer was just the Rays' third in a stretch of 316 at-bats. … After making a slight adjustment with coaches Derek Shelton and George Hendrick, B.J. Upton went 2-for-4. … Justin O'Conner, the Rays' second first-round pick, went 1-for-4 in his debut with the Gulf Coast League Rays.
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.