ST. PETERSBURG — For the second straight day, manager Joe Maddon did some early one-on-one work with struggling 1B Carlos Peña on the field, saying he wanted to show his support and share some ideas.
Turns out, it paid off.
Peña, who entered Tuesday hitting .198, had a solo homer in the fourth inning, his 28th of the season and first since Sept. 14. He said he really appreciated Maddon taking the time to help "me feel a little better at the plate."
"A lot of what's going on with Carlos, a lot of it has to do with just confidence, self-confidence," Maddon said. "And what I've been doing specifically is trying to help build that area, talking about some different drills that I had done years ago."
Maddon said part of what he went over with Peña was "getting ready earlier" in his swing. "And if he does, making better decisions, whether to swing or not and hopefully putting a charge on the ball."
HIGH praise: LF Carl Crawford is having the kind of season defensively that will likely warrant serious consideration for his first career Gold Glove.
He already has the vote of Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
Crawford, a four-time All-Star, has yet to win the award — voted on by the managers of each league — in eight big-league seasons. But Showalter said Crawford, due to be a free agent in the offseason, can impact the game defensively in a lot of ways.
"He's a game-changer," Showalter said. "That allows your centerfielder to do things. I think those are the things that (the Rays) are going to miss as much as what he brings offensively if he doesn't come back. I hope for their sake he does. For our sake, I hope he doesn't."
Though it's possible for the award to be presented to outfielders irrespective of their specific position, meaning three centerfielders could win the same year, Showalter said he's a "big believer in having a Gold Glove leftfielder."
"I took the other leftfielders in the American League, and (Crawford) is who I voted for," Showalter said. "He can defend a foul ball."
LAST STAND? RHP Jeff Niemann feels good entering tonight's start, coming off an encouraging outing last week against Seattle in which he picked up his first win since coming off the disabled list Aug. 3.
Niemann had struggled since the right shoulder strain but said after being "out of whack," he's finally slowing everything down and not forcing anything, resulting in more confidence in all his pitches. The question is, did he figure everything out too late?
Niemann acknowledged there are going to be a lot of "tough decisions to be made" in regards to the postseason roster and rotation and whether he's in it or not. But he said he has learned a lot through this roller-coaster year, which began with him being one of the Rays' most consistent starters (10-3 with a 3.12 ERA in his first 22 outings).
"It's like the tale of two seasons almost," Niemann said. "How it started, I sort of picked up where I left off at the end of last year, really felt like we were in a good rhythm and going up there and being pretty consistent. … I was on the DL, came back — the first time having to do that at this level. … It's been interesting and fun and frustrating, all at once."
DEFENDING DAN: Lost in 3B Evan Longoria's comments Monday regarding attendance was that he also came to the defense of RHP Dan Wheeler, who was booed during a tough outing two weeks ago.
"For us, it was like, can you see what he has done for us over the course of three years?" Longoria said. "I know it's like, 'What have you done for us lately?' But this guy has been an integral part of our team.
"Someone had to stand up on his behalf, because he's not going to say it, but for him to get booed off the mound over one or two bad outings I didn't think was respectful for him."
MISCELLANY: Longoria, rehabbing a left quad strain, did some more work pregame, including taking ground balls from his knees. His targeted return is during this weekend's Royals series.