ST. PETERSBURG — Rays CF B.J. Upton said having the uncertainty surrounding Sunday's trade deadline over and done with has given him some peace of mind, allowing him to relax, "have fun and play baseball."
Boy, it certainly has showed.
Upton went 3-for-3 Friday while reaching base five times. He has reached safely in seven consecutive plate appearances, one shy of a club record, including three extra-base hits.
"B.J. looks spectacular," manager Joe Maddon said.
Upton admitted being involved in trade rumors over the previous few weeks weighed on him and was "definitely rough," as he went 5-for-52 in 13 games through Sunday. But since Tuesday he's 7-for-16, including legging out extra-base hits in consecutive innings of Thursday's win and walking twice Friday.
"You're seeing all the different areas of his game that he can be very good at, so it's been fun," Maddon said. "That's a trend I'd like to see continue."
Upton said it has been a matter of making adjustments and the balls he has hit hard at people are "starting to fall."
"B.J.'s a talent, and ever since he got to the big leagues there's always been so much pressure put on him, and it still comes to this day," veteran DH Johnny Damon said. "But we couldn't live without him."
in the swing: Damon snapped an 0-for-15 skid by going 2-for-5 Friday night, saying he has been trying to figure out how to compensate for a left hand injury sustained when Twins LHP Francisco Liriano hit him with a pitch July 6.
"When you talk about fingers and wrists and baseball, it sounds silly, like we're sissies whenever you hear those injuries," he said. "But those are probably the most important parts that we have to deal with. The past couple days the swings have definitely been a lot better."
Rotation station: Maddon said "it's getting close to the finish line" of the six-man rotation and they will re-evaluate it after the Aug. 16 doubleheader in Boston. They've shuffled their rotation again, moving RHP Jeremy Hellickson back a day to Monday against the Royals and RHP James Shields to Tuesday.
WELCOME BACK: A's RH reliever Grant Balfour, a Ray from 2008-10, admitted it was definitely "weird" to be back at Tropicana Field on Friday — at least heading to the visitors clubhouse for the first time since 2004.
Balfour, who allowed a run over two-thirds of an inning Friday, was happy to spend the past couple days at his Clearwater home with his wife, Angie, and 2-month-old daughter, Raegan Madison. Balfour plans to live there in the offseason.
Not quite: Though Maddon was booed for pulling RHP Jeff Niemann with two outs in the ninth, the 6-foot-9 Texan understood, having thrown a career-high 119 pitches.
Niemann pitched to five batters in the ninth, giving up three extra-base hits.
"It was tough," Niemann said. But Joe gave me every chance possible to try to finish that game. It just wasn't in the cards."
MEDICAL MATTERS: Maddon said C John Jaso (oblique strain) and C Jose Lobaton (left knee sprain) came out of their recent baseball activities well. They are waiting for re-evaluation, but Jaso will need a rehab assignment. Maddon believes Jaso will be back by September, though it could be earlier.
Time off: Rays pregame and postgame radio host Rich Herrera has been off this week for "personal reasons." But he said in a text message all "is okay" and he will be back next week.
Miscellany: OF Matt Joyce stole his 10th base, joining Upton and Ben Zobrist as Rays with double-digit homers and steals. Only the Diamondbacks, with four, have more. … Zobrist leads the majors with 35 doubles and has 55 extra-base hits compared with 40 all of last season.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.