Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Shoulder issue pains Rays' Upton

ST. PETERSBURG — One by one, players have disappeared from the lineup. A broken bone, a bum knee, a sore elbow. In a season that stretches from spring to fall, the accumulation of injuries is inevitable.

And, yet, B.J. Upton plays on. The guy who has been booed for supposedly not caring, the one who has been benched for not hustling, is also the one who has stayed on the field despite hurting.

Upton has a torn labrum in his left shoulder. It prevents him from swinging the bat with authority. It caused the shoulder to pop out of its socket in May, and it will require him to have surgery in the offseason.

And, yet, he returns to centerfield day after day.

"At this point there's nothing I can do about it, especially with Carl (Crawford) and Evan (Longoria) already out," Upton said. "It's a little too late in the year, especially with the position we're in, for me to pull up lame. I just have to suck it up and keep grinding, and do what I can do to get on base and get in scoring position for these guys."

It is a subject Upton talks about reluctantly, and the Rays would prefer to keep it that way. It does no good to acknowledge one of the team's centerpieces is in constant discomfort. Or that he occasionally lets pitches go by because he's wary of certain angles when he swings.

But the evidence of his condition has been slowly building. Since leaving a game May 1 after aggravating the injury, Upton's home run power has almost vanished. He recently stopped taking batting practice to give his shoulder some rest. And awkward, flat-footed swings have grown more common.

"He won't say it, but he's hurting. He doesn't tell me that, but I can tell by his swing," said his father, Manny Upton. "If you notice his swing, he's basically swinging with one hand once the bat reaches the impact zone.

"He's afraid to really let it go."

The pain is manageable. The bigger issue is that it has become a hindrance to his swing. The shoulder is weaker and, because of the tear, Upton, 24, has to worry every full extension could lead to a dislocation that might end his season.

So he is not turning on pitches as much. He's not driving the ball as far. Through his first 99 at-bats of the season, Upton had three homers and a .434 slugging percentage. Since the shoulder popped out in May, he has five home runs in 387 at-bats and a .388 slugging percentage.

Or you could look at it this way:

A year ago, Upton had 24 homers and 25 doubles. Now he has eight homers and 33 doubles.

"If I could swing the way I wanted to, there would be less doubles and more homers," Upton said. "A lot of my doubles have been off the wall or they one-hop the wall. If I could have really put a full swing into it, I think the story would be a little different."

Think about the skills, the strength, the coordination it takes to hit 92 mph fastballs, while also adjusting to curveballs, sliders and sinkers. And then think about doing that with one good arm.

It is an indication of Upton's unique talent that he is virtually indispensable even when he is far from full strength. The Rays have survived with other players out of the lineup. They are 23-12 in games not started by Lon­goria at third base. They are 22-12 in games not started by Crawford in leftfield. Pick any other player, and the Rays have a winning record on those days when they are injured or resting.

But when Upton is not in the lineup, the Rays are 2-6.

"If he's not on the field, it changes our whole team," DH Cliff Floyd said. "We've already lost a couple, and we can't afford to lose him right now. He understands that, and hopefully he can stay in there until the end of the season and then get it fixed."

Upton has, in essence, turned himself into a different kind of player. He steals bases more often, ranking second in the American League with 41. He has better plate discipline, also second in the AL with 88 walks. He is willing to go to the opposite field, hitting the ball to right and center in four of his five plate appearances Tuesday.

And, in his first full season as a centerfielder, bench coach Davey Martinez says Upton's defense is Gold Glove worthy.

"A lot of guys don't get to the balls he catches," Martinez said.

With every subsequent question about the shoulder, Upton offers fewer and fewer details. Yes, it has been a problem for years. Yes, he considered having surgery last winter. No, he hasn't needed painkillers.

Eventually, his answers become shrugs, nods and a small smile.

"My main concern right now is winning, and I plan on being out there every day," Upton said. "Right now, the shoulder is just something I have to deal with."

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.

Shoulder issue pains Rays' Upton 09/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 11:23am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays morning after: Secret to Alex Colome's success is staying cool, calm, collected

    Blogs

    The ninth inning couldn't have started much worse for Rays closer Alex Colome on Tuesday, who took over with a 6-4 lead and quickly allowed a single and a double to bring the tying run to the plate.

  2. How will former USF assistant Tom Allen fare at Indiana?

    Blogs

    Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo doesn't sound particularly optimistic about Tom Allen's chances of keeping Indiana competitive in his first year as the Hoosiers' head coach.

    "He has some challenges," DiNardo said.

  3. ESPN cites safety in removing Robert Lee from UVA broadcast due to name (w/video)

    College

    ESPN has removed an announcer from its broadcast of the University of Virginia's first football game next month because he has the same name as a Confederate general memorialized in statues that are being taken down across the country.

    Louisville lines up for a play against Virginia during an NCAA college football game in Charlottesville, Va., in 2016 ESPN broadcaster Robert Lee will not work Virginia's season opener because of recent violence in Charlottesville sparked by the decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A spokeswoman for ESPN says Lee has been moved to Youngstown State's game at Pittsburgh on the ACC Network on Sept. 2. The network says the decision was made "as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name." [Associated Press]
  4. Celtics were only team in position to deal for Kyrie Irving

    Nba

    The Cavaliers found themselves in a seemingly impossible situation when it came to trading Kyrie Irving. Not only did Cleveland need to try to extract the kind of price a team looks to get to trade its star — some combination of cap relief, young players and draft picks — it also needed to acquire talent to …

    Kyrie Irving, left, is guarded by Stephen Curry during the NBA Finals last season. [Associated Press]
  5. Browns, who visit Bucs this week, take a courageous step toward social change

    Bucs

    CLEVELAND — The laughingstock of the league during a 1-15 season in 2016, the Browns took a dramatic step forward Monday night.

    Browns players kneel as others stand to support their circle during the national anthem before Monday night's preseason game against the Giants. [Associated Press]