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Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton hears Gold Glove talk

ST. PETERSBURG — B.J. Upton may be in only his second full season in centerfield. But with every difficult catch that Upton makes look easy — like his over-the-shoulder grab Sunday — manager Joe Maddon says the 24-year-old shows that he has the ability to win a Gold Glove.

And the player Upton would have to unseat for the award — Angels CF Torii Hunter, who has won eight straight — says Upton should receive "big consideration" for it.

"He has everything," Hunter said. "He's smooth to the ball, he has a great arm, he plays centerfield pretty well. That's one guy I respect. I respect the way he plays centerfield. … He's just smooth, he looks like he's not going after the ball, but he's there every time. So I definitely think he's a candidate for a Gold Glove."

Hunter pointed out that Upton started his Rays career as an infielder and didn't start his first big-league game in center until 2007.

"That lets you know how athletic this guy is," Hunter said. "He was a shortstop and infielder, and he goes out there and plays centerfield better than guys who have been playing there their whole lives."

When asked about his catches, Upton humbly says he's just focused on making the play, but he takes pride in his defense.

"He's real modest out there," Maddon said. "As this guy gets older, more experienced and more comfortable at his position, he's going to do things as well as it's been done in a long time."

IN THE SWING: 3B Evan Longoria said he's starting to feel better at the plate, with hits in three of his last four games after going through a career-worst 0-for-19 stretch following his return from a hamstring injury. "I'm feeling a lot more comfortable in the box," he said. "I'm still missing some pitches I should be hitting, so not exactly where I want to be. But that really doesn't matter, the big thing is we're winning."

SEEN IT BEFORE: With Ben Zobrist putting up career numbers this season and impressing with his versatility, Maddon acknowledges he's "right at the top of the list" in terms of pushing for an everyday role at second base.

Maddon said he had loved being able to spot Zobrist in the utility role, akin to pulling a joker card out of his back pocket. But Maddon has also seen situations where such a player turns into a regular and has success. He cited former INF Randy Velarde, whom he said went from a Yankees utility guy to an Angels starting second baseman.

Zobrist has started the last 13 games at second and has five homers in his last 12 games.

"Sometimes a guy like 'Zorilla' just needs that opportunity," Maddon said. "A guy like him who stays ready and really works the way he does, when that opportunity does arrive, all of a sudden — boom — he can just jump on it and become a very, very impressive major-league player, possibly at one position."

MISCELLANY: Continuing his minor-league rehab assignment at Double-A Montgomery, RHP Chad Bradford pitched one scoreless inning in relief Monday against Chattanooga, giving up a hit. … The Rays have homered in 19 of their past 20 games (32 homers total in the stretch). Their 85 homers are their most after 65 games.

Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton hears Gold Glove talk 06/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 6:43am]
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