ST. PETERSBURG — Joe Maddon benched B.J. Upton on Wednesday, saying he was upset with the centerfielder's lack of hustle in running out a ground ball in Tuesday's eighth inning.
Maddon said it was a one-day punishment, and Upton should be in the lineup tonight when the Rays begin a 10-game trip in Seattle.
But considering Maddon's terse meeting with his players two weeks ago in Kansas City, when he — for the first time in three years as manager — ripped them for a lack of hustle, he believed a point had to be made.
"When it comes down to individual effort, it takes absolutely zero talent — zero, zero talent to try hard or play hard every day," he said. "I'm okay with physical mistakes. We talked about the mental mistakes, I want them to cut down and we have cut down on them a lot. I'm accepting of all that. The part I'm not accepting of is the part you can control, which is your effort."
Upton, 23, agreed, saying: "I didn't run it out. But it's over, done with, you move on. Learned a lesson."
KAZ ON TRACK? Maddon said he's not "overtly concerned" with the recent struggles of All-Star LHP Scott Kazmir, who failed to last six innings for the eighth time in his past 10 starts. But he admitted, "It's something we do have to get straightened out because he's such a big cog in our entire situation."
Kazmir said the problems are more mental than physical, with his comfort level on the mound impacting his mechanics, issues that "seem like it's something so easy to fix, that's why it's frustrating.
"It felt like I really tried to do too much out there, just overstriding as opposed to staying within myself," he said. "It's tough right now. The good thing about it is that I feel like I'm (close to feeling) like I feel comfortable up there instead of having to fight myself every pitch."
He isn't alone in having trouble getting late into games, as starters have lasted six innings twice in the past seven games.
"Hopefully this road trip, we can kind of reverse that a little bit," Kazmir said.
BARTLETT BACK: SS Jason Bartlett, who missed two games with a bruised right index finger, returned to the lineup as the DH, going 3-for-4 with two doubles. Bartlett, injured on a bunt attempt Sunday, has played catch the past couple of days and the team hopes he can return to the field soon. "As soon as he's ready to throw, obviously, he'll be back," Maddon said.
CRAWFORD COMING: LF Carl Crawford said his sore left hamstring is feeling a lot better, and Maddon said the two-time All-Star could return to the lineup today in Seattle.
"I feel strong enough to go full speed," Crawford said. "That was the reason we wanted to rest these three days so I can play at full speed and not have to worry about playing at like 70 percent."
Crawford, a four-time AL stolen-base champion, said the injury affected him on the basepaths. He stole a base Friday and Saturday, snapping an 18-game streak without one.
MISCELLANY: OF Rocco Baldelli (muscle fatigue disorder) will accompany the team on its trip and Maddon said a big reason he hasn't been activated is the team's other injuries. … 1B Carlos Pena reached base in seven straight plate appearances before striking out in the seventh. He has five homers in his past 12 games. … LHP J.P. Howell pitched 22/3 innings, giving him 65, a Rays record for relief innings by a lefty, passing Doug Creek's 622/3 (2001). … The Rays won back-to-back games against the Indians for the first time under Maddon and got their first series win against them since Sept. 27-29, 2005.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.