ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon most clearly showed his confidence Wednesday in struggling CF Desmond Jennings by keeping him in the lineup.
But Maddon also delivered verbal assurance, meeting with Jennings after his latest fielding miscue led directly to Tuesday's loss.
"I just brought a couple things to his attention that I want him to be aware of, one being that he's really good and, No. 2, that he's going to be a great player in this league," Maddon said.
"I wanted him to understand that he can impact this game for us possibly like no other player in our locker room can based on his ability. So just a reaffirmation of what you're all about, and understand that.
"We all get our confidence dinged once in a while. We all do. Everybody does. Sometimes you just need somebody to remind you what you're good at and how good you actually are. So hopefully that would help a little bit because I do believe in him a lot."
Jennings has also been struggling at the plate, hitting just .175 in his first 20 games since coming off the DL Aug. 19 following a broken left middle finger, and he made outs twice Wednesday with the bases loaded.
FAST TIMES: RHP Jeremy Hellickson starts tonight with seven days' rest, moved back in the rotation in hopes he can maintain the "better fastball" Maddon said he showed in his Sept. 4 return to the rotation.
That start came on eight days' rest and resulted in his first win in more than a month, having gone 0-5, 9.00 in six starts in the interim.
The improvement was slight, an average velocity of 91.6 mph compared to 90.1 in his previous start and an average of 90.5 over the previous six, per fangraphs.com. But it was enough to not only make the fastball more effective but also his changeup and curveball.
"There's a greater discrepancy between pitches, which makes the other pitches better pitches," Maddon said. "So I saw a better fastball and everything else played off that much better."
Hellickson agreed that the extra time off helped. "The main thing was a little more life to my fastball," he said.
After tonight, Hellickson would have three more starts, and the Rays hope he can make them on regular rest. Otherwise they would have to turn to RHP Roberto Hernandez or, if he is called back up, RHP Jake Odorizzi.
FAMILY MATTER: C Jose Molina is expected to miss at least today's game due to a family matter. Brothers Yadier, who catches for the Cardinals, and Bengie, who is their assistant hitting coach, were not at Busch Stadium for their Wednesday game due to what St. Louis manager Mike Matheny called a "family, personal matter" they needed to attend to. The Molinas are from Puerto Rico.
CRAIN TRAIN: RHP Jesse Crain felt good playing catch the day after his second bullpen session. He wants to throw a third, on Friday in Minnesota, before advancing to the next step in his rehab from a shoulder strain, likely a simulated game. He hopes to pitch during the final week or two of the season. "He thinks he needs a little more work on his off-speed breaking stuff and then he would be happy," Maddon said.
NOT-SO-MINOR MATTERS: Triple-A Durham rallied to beat Pawtucket (Red Sox) 2-1 on Wednesday to even their best-of-five International League finals at one game apiece. Game 3 is Friday in Pawtucket. … INF Ryan Roberts strained an oblique during warmups Tuesday and was replaced on the roster by Shawn O'Malley.
TIME CHANGE: The Sept. 21 home game vs. Baltimore has been moved up from a 7:10 start to 1:05 as it will be broadcast nationally by Fox.
MISCELLANY: The Rays have hit into 40 double plays in their past 32 games, including at least one in 19 of their past 21. … Ben Zobrist tied Carlos Peña's franchise record with his 460th walk. … The Rays have not played any music during Boston's batting practice, which is typically done in all parks.