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Rays' Maddon praises 'fired up' Balfour

ST. PETERSBURG — Grant Balfour has proved his point to Joe Maddon. And the manager was more than willing to be the object of his reliever's scorn if it produced the kind of pitcher the 30-year-old is becoming since joining the Rays on May 30.

Balfour, who didn't make the club out of spring training and began at Triple-A Durham, recorded two massive outs in the seventh inning Thursday night after the Cubs took a 3-1 lead and threatened more, then tossed another scoreless inning as the Rays scored seven times in the seventh for an 8-3 win. He's 2-0 with a save and a 1.75 ERA.

"You look at his numbers in Triple A and you have to believe it lit some kind of fire," Maddon said. "Those were very good. He's just been different.

"He comes off, he's fired up. You can see it in his eyes. He's on the verge of really believing in himself right now and once he does, with his stuff, there's no telling what he can do."

Pitching coach Jim Hickey called Balfour's Durham stats — including one earned run allowed in 232/3 innings —"cartoonish" and indicative that he was ready for such pivotal situations as Thursday. Balfour struck out three to win for the second straight outing.

"It was obvious he's throwing probably as well as he's thrown in his life, and we're going to go ahead and use him right away, and put him in situations where the game is on the line, not try to ease him into it," Hickey said. "Why waste him when a guy's on a hot streak like that? He's given us a number of high quality innings."

Tag team: 3B Evan Lon­goria had just one chance at shortstop Thursday in his unexpected tuneup for Jason Bartlett's quick-approaching paternity leave, but the rookie says he'll adjust quickly to the position because 2B Akinori Iwamura will make all the defensive calls. But Longoria has not attempted to turn a double play since he played for Long Beach State, and collegiate baserunners weren't allowed to try to cut him in half.

"You have to go straight into the bag (in college), so it's a little bit different, but I'm ready for it," he said. "I've worked out there on the bag, just done some work. If the time comes, I'll be ready for it."

What DO I say? Longoria forgot for "five or six innings" Thursday night that he was wearing a microphone for MLB Productions and isn't quite sure what he might have said but, overall, isn't too concerned. "They edit it and stuff, so I really don't have to worry about what I say," he said. "There are things that won't be heard. It's just part of the way and the culture in this clubhouse."

Feeling better: 1B Carlos Pena said his broken left index finger feels "head-over-heels" better, and he anticipates returning to the lineup next week after a scheduled evaluation Sunday. He is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list and continued to take infield practice Friday and hit in the cage. … Bartlett returned to the lineup after missing Thursday's game with a bruised foot.

MISCELLANY: With a 4.5 average household TV rating (81,000 HH) in the Tampa/St. Petersburg market Thursday, the Rays' win over the Cubs posted the highest rating on FSN Florida since the team's inception and was No. 2 during its time period behind Ch. 13. … According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rays are the first AL team to win nine consecutive home series since Oakland won 12 straight in 2005. … CF B.J. Upton threw out the Astros' Miguel Tejada trying to stretch a third-inning single into a double, tying him for the AL lead with eight outfield assists. Former Ray Delmon Young, now with the Twins, also has eight.

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

Rays' Maddon praises 'fired up' Balfour 06/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 11:33pm]
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