ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Rays chose OF Justin Ruggiano for promotion last month because they felt he was best suited for a reserve role. And once he showed he could handle not playing, he has started playing better.
And enjoying it more.
"This is the most fun I've ever had playing," he said.
Ruggiano, 29, made three consecutive starts in Anaheim and made the most of it, going 5-for-12 with four RBIs (including a homer) and several good defensive plays.
"He's on the verge right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's really in that Stage 3 of development, 'I belong here' kind of stuff. I kind of like how he's looking. We talked about it a lot with him in spring training. He really matured."
He showed it despite being taken off the 40-man roster (to make room for OF Johnny Damon and DH Manny Ramirez), then by starring again after opening his fifth straight season at Triple-A Durham. That led to his May 20 promotion ahead of prospects such as OF Brandon Guyer and OF Desmond Jennings.
"He's come back, and he's kind of a different cat," Maddon said. "He understands this a lot better. He understands his role. The interaction is a lot easier. He's grown up a lot."
Ruggiano said he learned to be more appreciative of the opportunity to be in the big leagues rather than concerned with whether he was playing that day: "It's really just like an overall happiness of being here right now, and that's how I go about it every day. Regardless of whether I'm in the lineup or not, I'm excited and I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win."
REMEMBER WHEN: RHP Jeremy Hellickson pitched in Baltimore on May 7 and, despite getting the win, wasn't happy with his performance, lasting only five innings as he walked five.
"I think it was just one of those days," Hellickson said. "I know that's not what kind of pitcher I am. I know I'm not going to walk that many guys again — hopefully not. I was pretty upset with my performance."
So all he has done in the five starts since then is make amends, averaging seven-plus innings, walking only 11 total and going 4-1, 1.53; in the process picking up AL pitcher and rookie of the month honors.
"I definitely took something from that," said Hellickson, now 7-3, 2.64 overall. "I know I've commanded my pitches a lot better than I did that game. It's just a matter of throwing the ball where you want to and executing."
ABOUT WEDNESDAY NIGHT: After blowing a 3-0 eighth-inning lead, the Rays won 4-3 in 10 innings, taking the lead when John Jaso scored on Reid Brignac's squeeze bunt. That was one pitch after Jaso, on second (and with Evan Longoria on first) with no outs, made a mad dash for third when Brignac pulled back on a sacrifice bunt attempt.
Maddon said only that Jaso "saw something" and was definitely on his own.
"I can't give away all my secrets," Jaso said. "I guess I kind of saw an opening in my head. That was kind of one of those plays where it looks great tonight but if I was out, I'd look really, really dumb. So I'm just kind of glad it all worked out.
RHP Kyle Farnsworth, though issuing his second walk of the season, finished for his 13th save and lowered his ERA to 1.17.
REHAB REPORT: INF Elliot Johnson, who sprained his left knee May 23 in Detroit, played the first of two rehab games for Durham on Thursday. As the designated hitter, he went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and two groundouts. Johnson has been going through full workouts and could be activated Saturday.
MINOR MATTERS: LHP Matt Moore was one of four Montgomery Biscuits named to the June 21 Double-A Southern League All-Star Game, joined by RHP Marquis Fleming, C Stephen Vogt and 3B Daniel Mayora. … Class A Charlotte 2B Tyler Bortnick and RHP Alex Colome were added to the South squad for the June 18 Florida State League All-Star Game, joining four teammates.
MISCELLANY: Longoria, out of the lineup the past three games with a severe flu, said he felt fine after his 10th-inning appearance Wednesday and expects to start tonight. … Todd Kalas will be in the TV booth this weekend with analyst Brian Anderson off. … The Rays had played 20 series in Anaheim before logging their first sweep.