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Hustle on basepaths key to Tampa Bay Rays' recent success

ST. PETERSBURG — The plays may not have shown up in the box scores. Nor did they make SportsCenter highlights.

But two hustle plays by Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett last week were huge in the Rays entering Saturday's game on a three-game winning streak. On Wednesday, it was Zobrist who sparked a five-run, eighth-inning rally against the Phillies by beating out a potential inning-ending forceout at second.

And on Friday, it was Bartlett who beat out a double play in the eighth, keeping the inning alive before B.J. Upton's go-ahead three-run double.

"It can make a huge impact," Zobrist said. "Oftentimes, in a baseball game, one play makes the difference. Oftentimes, it has something to do with something like that, that this guy made a smart play here or a hustle play. You throw those things into the mix and there's some extra wins there that possibly wouldn't have been there."

Manager Joe Maddon said he has preached those kinds of hustle plays since his days coaching in the instructional leagues, and the Rays are getting better at doing it on a more consistent basis.

"When you talk to your players, the obvious stuff, everybody wants the hit, everybody wants their knocks, whatever," Maddon said. "But all this other stuff counts in this game. And all this other stuff matters. When you play at the end of the season, when you're playing in the playoffs, when you're part of that eight, you look back and you've done all these other things well."

Price is right: LHP David Price, today's starter, is coming off a rough outing, giving up 10 runs (five earned) against the Phillies, but doesn't plan to extensively change his approach. Price said he felt he had good stuff and was "pleased with my pitches," but he just got hit.

"It's just one of those nights; everyone has them," Price said.

Maddon said Price's slider was better in his last start but was still a bit too flat, and he'd like him to continue to use his changeup more.

"The biggest thing I'm concerned with is fastball command, throwing strikes with it," Maddon said. "And I've seen more of that, and I think if he does that then he's going to feel the rest of his game."

Easing in: RHP Chad Bradford rejoined the bullpen, saying his rehab from offseason elbow surgery went well and he has been comfortable with his stuff in his past few outings. He was tested immediately, working around a hit and an Evan Longoria error to pitch a scoreless sixth. The veteran submarine-style reliever will get eased back in and likely won't pitch more than two days in a row for a while, Maddon said.

Tough call: Maddon reiterated how tough it was to tell RHP Andy Sonnanstine on Friday night that he was optioned to Triple-A Durham, making room for LHP Scott Kazmir. But Maddon said the right-hander will get a chance to work on some things, including his approach to right-handed hitters, who hit .370 against him this season.

"When we really looked into it, we saw some significant differences, in regard to what he was doing," Maddon said. "He can address that, work on that, and then I believe if he gets that taken care of, he'll be fine here again."

Miscellany: On Friday, LHP Jake McGee made his first appearance since Tommy John surgery, allowing three runs on two hits without a recording an out for the Gulf Coast League Rays. … Entering Saturday's game, six of Upton's 27 RBIs this season resulted in the winning run (22.2 percent), second highest in the AL behind the Yankees' Jorge Posada (24.1 percent), according to the Elias Sports Bureau (minimum 25 RBIs). … RHPs James Shields and Grant Balfour will sign autographs for kids 14 and younger from noon to 12:30 today along the first-base line.

Hustle on basepaths key to Tampa Bay Rays' recent success 06/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 27, 2009 10:45pm]
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