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Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton extends hot August stretch

ST. PETERSBURG — CF B.J. Upton continued his hot month with another big game Wednesday against the Rangers.

Upton's 404-foot solo homer in the fifth extended his hitting streak to a season-high nine games, and manager Joe Maddon said it sounded off the bat like it does when he "hits it right."

"It was wonderful to watch," Maddon said. "We want to get him back to that mode."

In Upton's streak, he has done plenty right in hitting .353 (12-for-34), saying it's a product of "making things simple" and not thinking too much.

"I've seen him really grow up over the last month," Maddon said. "I've seen him really mentally take his game to another level, and I really enjoy watching it."

Maddon also said Upton's defense is still among the best, and he's making better decisions on the basepaths. Upton had two steals Wednesday, giving him 35 on the season, and alertly advanced to third on a wild pitch in the sixth, allowing him to score on LF Carl Crawford's sacrifice fly.

"He's getting to the point now where he's in the present tense all the time," Maddon said. "Athletes like that, when they learn to be in the present tense all the time, good things happen."

CLOSE CALL: There was a scary moment for the Rays in the ninth, when SS Jason Bartlett slid headfirst into third on a steal attempt and smacked his head on the left leg of Rangers 3B Jorge Cantu.

Bartlett stayed on the ground for a couple minutes and was attended to by Maddon and assistant athletic trainer Paul Harker before getting up and staying in the game. Bartlett scored on a sacrifice fly by 3B Evan Longoria. Other than being sore, Bartlett felt fine afterward and hopes it won't linger into today.

"I wanted to lay there at first, because obviously it hurt," Bartlett said. "But then I wasn't sure what happened. As I gathered myself I felt like I could get up. I was still dizzy when I was getting up, but it kind of wore off."

It has been a rough series for Bartlett, who also collided with Rangers 2B Andres Blanco in Tuesday's game while trying to advance to second base.

"I've been lucky," Bartlett said, smiling. "I'll have to wear a football helmet out there."

MEDICAL MATERS: Maddon said RHPs Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis did well in their bullpen sessions Wednesday, passing another test in their rehab from right shoulder strains. Niemann and Davis will throw in a simulated game Friday in Oakland, with target return dates of Aug. 23 and 25 in Anaheim.

"The thing I'm always looking for especially when they're coming off a little bit of a shoulder is how you finish," Maddon said. "Are they going to reach out there and finish without guarding? I saw no guarding whatsoever. Honestly, I told them both it looked as though you were warming up to pitch today."

WALK THIS WAY: Ben Zobrist drew three walks, giving him 11 on the six-game homestand. His 43 since June 23 lead the majors. Maddon said he feels Zobrist is having a better approach, hitting the ball hard while laying off borderline pitches, and looks more like he did last year during his All-Star season.

"I think earlier in the season, I was just too aggressive, trying to hit everything," Zobrist said. "So I'm trying to look for my pitch and stay back, and make sure I see the ball. If I don't see what I'm looking for, I'm letting it go. And they're not throwing strikes."

MISCELLANY: OF Matt Joyce's RBI single in the seventh off Darren Oliver was his first hit off a left-handed pitcher this season (1-for-15). … Rangers OF Josh Hamilton went 1-for-10 in the series, with his only hit a single. … Crawford has a nine-game hitting streak that began Aug. 9, the day he moved to the No. 3 spot in the lineup. … The Rays won their 900th game in club history (900-1,161).

Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton extends hot August stretch 08/18/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 11:08pm]
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