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Sam Fuld off to quick start in season debut for Tampa Bay Rays

BALTIMORE — When Rays OF Sam Fuld came off the disabled list to make his season debut Tuesday, manager Joe Maddon wondered how sharp he could be right away.

But Fuld, who missed nearly four months due to right wrist surgery, has appeared in midseason form, going 5-for-9 with two RBIs, a double, a steal and a walk while playing in all three games in the Orioles series.

"I'm happy with the way things have gone; I can't ask for a whole lot more," Fuld said. "The bonus is that my wrist feels good, and I feel like playing three consecutive days hasn't hindered me."

Fuld has as many hits in the series (two starts) as he had in 10 minor-league rehab games for Class A Charlotte and Triple-A Durham, where he batted .161 but believed he had his timing down. Maddon said Fuld is "frisky" and has shown an organized strike zone, pointing to his opposite-field double in the seventh as a good sign.

"I felt good coming into it," Fuld said. "I obviously didn't expect to necessarily get that many hits that soon, but I was confident going in."

LEANING LEFT: The Rays acquired INF Jeff Keppinger in the offseason for his ability to consistently hit left-handed pitching.

Keppinger has done that and more, hitting .450 against lefties and is the only active Ray hitting over .300 overall (.320). Maddon said Keppinger's at-bats against righties have been "fantastic."

"He's morphed into our most consistent hitter on a nightly basis, regardless of who is pitching," Maddon said.

Keppinger, who has spent some of his career as a utility/reserve player, said it's a product of getting more opportunities. He has seized the extra playing time that came available when 3B Evan Longoria (partially torn left hamstring) got hurt.

"It's tough playing every six, every seven days and expecting to be successful," Keppinger said. "So getting to play every day makes you feel more comfortable and get into a groove."

GOING DEEP: RHP Alex Cobb said there have been no lingering effects from the lower right leg bruise he suffered in his last start, when a ground ball struck him and ended his outing after two innings.

"Nothing should be different than any other start," he said.

But what Cobb would like to change is how deep into the game he goes. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings in the start before he was struck by the grounder. He last went six innings July 6 against Cleveland.

"It feels like forever since I went out there and had five or six quality innings," Cobb said. "So I'm looking forward to it."

Cobb, who is 2-7 with a 5.72 ERA in his last nine outings, said he has spent extra time going over video of his starts to see what he can do better, and he has sharpened his mechanics. "I feel great," he said.

TOUGH TASK: The Rays travel to face the wild-card co-leading Angels, who look much different than the struggling group Tampa Bay swept in a late-April series at Tropicana Field. Rookie OF Mike Trout, called up soon after that, has sparked a turnaround, and 1B Albert Pujols ended his homerless streak in a big way (18 homers, 61 RBIs).

"They've gotten really good," Maddon said. "Trout has made a huge difference out there. Pujols has picked it up like you knew he would. (RF/3B Mark) Trumbo isn't bad, either. They've got more youthful and a little more powerful; quite a formidable opponent."

Said Cobb: "There's not an easy out in the lineup."

Longoria watch: Longoria went 0-for-3 (fly to center, pop to first, pop to second) with a walk for Triple-A Durham on Thursday in his first game of a rehab assignment.

MISCELLANY: OF Matt Joyce extended his hitting streak to a season-high seven games. … New 3B Ryan Roberts made his second straight start and has reached base in five of his first eight plate appearances (including three walks and a two-run homer). Said Maddon: "His at-bats have been stellar."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Sam Fuld off to quick start in season debut for Tampa Bay Rays 07/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 27, 2012 1:42am]

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