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Outfielder B.J. Upton steadfast in his belief that he's staying with Tampa Bay Rays

SEATTLE — Not that he's watching the clock or anything, but OF B.J. Upton's first response when asked Friday afternoon about the trade situation was, "Less than 48 hours."

Upton's considered the Ray most likely to get traded by Sunday's 4 p.m. nonwaiver deadline. The latest speculation is the Braves, after losing out on OF Hunter Pence to the Phillies, might become more aggressive.

Upton continues to believe he won't get dealt: "I don't think it's going to happen. I'm not going anywhere."

Manager Joe Maddon supported that theory, saying he spoke Friday with executive VP Andrew Friedman, and "nothing's going on."

Maddon compared this year's deadline to past years when the Rays, with a policy of not commenting on trade rumors, are the subject of extensive speculation.

"I talk to you guys every year and it's always the same thing," Maddon said. "Whether we're buyers or sellers, whatever the perception is, our names are bandied about in some things, and nothing ever happens. I'm prepared for nothing happening."

Among other Rays mentioned in trade rumors are 1B Casey Kotchman (Pirates) and starter James Shields (Reds). According to published reports, they offered pitchers Jeff Niemann and J.P. Howell to St. Louis for OF Colby Rasmus.

JASO DELAYED: C John Jaso, on the disabled list since the All-Star break with a right oblique strain, might be at least a couple of weeks from returning. He has yet to hit off a tee without issues, Maddon said. After that, Jaso will progress to live batting practice, then likely will need at least a few minor-league rehab appearances.

COME ON DOWN: The bullpen shuttle might be coming to an end. The Rays have compensated for being a man short in their bullpen over the past two weeks by shuffling five relievers into the sixth spot. RHP Mike Ekstrom was the latest, and since he didn't pitch Thursday, he got to accompany the team to Seattle.

But with RHP Juan Cruz close to returning from the DL, perhaps as soon as Tuesday, the shuttle might be grounded. As a result, Maddon said he wasn't sure if they would stay with the current alignment of six starters and six relievers.

"That's our plan as of right now," he said. "That could change. I'm not going to say that's definitely it. … The way this has been working. It's been working like we thought it would. Just that we've had to use it a little bit too often."

Cruz, sidelined since July 18 with a groin strain, is scheduled to make a rehab appearance tonight for Class A Charlotte at Tampa and could be ready after that.

CASEY AT THE BAT: 1B Casey Kotchman returned to Seattle with a .324 average, an increase of 107 points over the .217 he hit for the Mariners last season that would be the third-largest jump in AL history, according to STATS Inc.

Kotchman credited the offseason tear duct procedure that cleared his vision and extensive work with hitting coach Derek Shelton, plus advice from 1B coach George Hendrick.

But getting to play at home — he was born in St. Petersburg and still lives in Clearwater — also has been a factor.

"I'm spoiled at home, I've got a really good support system. Just knowing the area, I like being around. There's a comfort level," he said. "It was a perfect time to be able to go home and have that level of comfort. … It was nice to have some stability coming off the year that I had at home."

Kotchman, on a one-year contract, said he hasn't thought about his future but would like to stay with the team if he gets the chance.

MISCELLANY: The Rays will stay in rotation for the Toronto series: LHP David Price, RHP James Shields and RHP Wade Davis. ... DH Johnny Damon notched his 2,678th hit, taking over 66th place on the alltime list from Luis Aparicio. ... Ben Zobrist extended his hitting streak to nine games, with a .405 average in that span. ... Evan Longoria leads the AL with 39 RBIs since June 11 (41 games). ... The Rays logged their ninth shutout.

Outfielder B.J. Upton steadfast in his belief that he's staying with Tampa Bay Rays 07/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 30, 2011 3:35am]

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