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Elliot Johnson hopes versatility, hustle take him off bubble with Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays’ Elliot Johnson navigates his way around Marlins catcher John Buck to score on a botched rundown play.

Associated Press

The Rays’ Elliot Johnson navigates his way around Marlins catcher John Buck to score on a botched rundown play.

JUPITER — Just Elliot being Elliot.

INF/OF Elliot Johnson put on an impressive display of his value to the Rays in Wednesday's 6-3 win against the Marlins, stealing three bases (including home), rapping two hits, knocking in a pair of runs (with a double) and making a diving catch in centerfield.

"Perfect example," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's what makes him so attractive, that he can do so many different things for us."

Johnson, 27, has his best chance to make the opening day roster in what is his 10th season in the organization. His value is his versatility, specifically that he can play in the middle of the field — shortstop, second base and center — his hustle and his scrappiness, which first drew attention in spring 2008 when he ran over Yankees C Francisco Cervelli.

Simply put, it's what a player like Johnson, who doesn't hit a lot of home runs, has to do.

"You've got to make up and do things in areas for areas that you don't do," he said. "I have to make that a part of my game. I've always done it that way."

He also showed his speed, stealing second and third after singling to set up a run on a Manny Ramirez sacrifice fly, and wriggling out of a mess to score in what was an aborted steal of home. Johnson thought he could break when Marlins C John Buck tossed the ball casually back to the mound, but left too soon so Buck held the ball, but the Marlins botched the rundown.

"I got lucky," said Johnson, who, after missing 10 days with a left quad strain, is hitting .278.

MANNY MATTER: Joking that he was "The Travelin' Man" after asking to make the trip to Jupiter, Ramirez said (even after taking a third strike and grounding out in addition to the sac fly) that he is feeling good at the plate.

Ramirez looked so good on his home run swing Tuesday that Maddon watched the replay repeatedly on his iPad during the nearly three-hour bus ride to Jupiter. "It was nice, easy, not an effort-laden swing; more the tension-free kind of hack that really permits a ball to jump and permits you to be quick," Maddon said. "I kept replaying it so I have it in my mind's eye what it looked like."

PITCHING IN: RHP Wade Davis was scratched from his scheduled start when he became ill — "vomiting and all kinds of issues," Maddon said — and may not get back on the mound until Friday. RHP Cory Wade found out just before the bus left Port Charlotte early Wednesday that he was the replacement: "I happened to run into (pitching coach Jim) Hickey in the food room and he said, 'Hey, you want to start?' " … RHP Jeremy Hellickson said there should be no recurring problem with the blister/skin flap that was an issue Tuesday, and added that he felt better after being ill. He is set to pitch Sunday.

TROP TREK: A small group of players will go through a quick workout at Tropicana Field before tonight's game in Tampa to check out the new AstroTurf and to refamiliarize themselves with the roof. The Rays made some adjustments to the fill material in the turf that affects the roll, trying to match it to how the half-field installed in Port Charlotte has been playing. "Hopefully it's to everyone's liking," Maddon said.

COUPLE of JOES: Maddon visited for about 15 minutes pregame with Joe Torre, who is making the rounds in his new role as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, talking about a variety of on-field issues. "He wanted to know what I thought about certain issues, so I told him," Maddon said. "It's easy to talk to Joe, it's a nice, easy exchange. … He's a guy that you definitely believe is listening to what you're saying. … And he likes wine, so a lot of good stuff going on there."

GAME DETAILS: The Rays (8-9-1) played a crisp game, starting with a strong 2 2/3 innings from Wade. … OF Sam Fuld, who had started the spring 2-for-22, had three hits. … The Rays rapped ex-teammate Randy Choate for three runs on two hits and a walk.

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

Elliot Johnson hopes versatility, hustle take him off bubble with Tampa Bay Rays 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 10:35pm]
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