MILWAUKEE — INF Elliot Johnson didn't need to be reminded that he hadn't had a hit in 15 at-bats since rejoining the Rays from the disabled list 10 days earlier.
"I knew it," he said. "I knew it well. Trust me."
He had started to feel more comfortable at the plate Monday and even his first two times up Wednesday, when he struck out and grounded out. But, still, he wasn't expecting what happened the third time, when he crushed a 2-and-1 pitch for a three-run homer to right that broke open what had been a 3-2 game.
Actually, with runners on first and second with no outs and pitcher David Price not exactly menacing on deck, he wasn't sure he would even get to swing, as manager Joe Maddon could have had Johnson bunt then sent up Johnny Damon to pinch-hit.
But because Price was pitching so well, Maddon planned to leave him in. And as a byproduct, Johnson got to swing away — though his goal was a ground ball in the hole between short and third.
"They were kind of anticipating a bunt and I was trying to hit the ball there but (reliever Tim Dillard) he came down and in and I just reacted to it," Johnson said. "That's hitting though. You try and hit a home run, it's probably not going to happen. You try and do something small, and good things happen."
Johnson missed 16 games with a left knee sprain and is wearing a bulky brace that has noticeably affected his speed but, he said, isn't an issue when he's hitting.
"It's just about getting the timing back," he said. "And I certainly feel better."
J.P. DINGED: LHP J.P. Howell flew home to have his sore left foot examined by team doctor Koco Eaton but was confident he would not end up on the disabled list.
"NO way is it DL," Howell said via text message. "It's half as bad as last couple days."
Head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield also does not think it's serious, Maddon said, and though Howell was "very sore" the Rays consider the situation more of "a nuisance" than an injury.
Also, the Rays want to be cautious since Howell just returned after missing all of 2010 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. "With a foot injury our biggest concern is that he would re-hurt his arm by adjusting to it," Maddon said.
NUMBERS GAME: Price threw 120 pitches, the second most of his 71-start career, and welcomed the opportunity. "Awesome," he said. He threw 122 in a 2-1 loss to Minnesota on July 2, 2010. With 10 strikeouts, he reached double digits for the sixth time in his career, third this season. The Rays are 6-0 in those games.
DAMON RESTED: After starting in leftfield Monday and Tuesday, Damon was out of the lineup. Maddon said it was more a matter of giving Damon, 37, rest and not liking the matchup with Brewers starter Shaun Marcum than a reflection on Damon's defense after a challenging outing Tuesday. Justin Ruggiano started in left, and Sam Fuld ended up replacing him.
"Johnny can still cover the ground and can still go catch the ball but when it comes to throwing, these other guys have an edge and we know that," Maddon said. "But he was not awful (Tuesday) by any means. There were some tough moments, he had to move laterally. … They were testing his arm, that was in their game plan. That's the way it works sometimes."
MISCELLANY: Two Rays were picked off first base, 2B Sean Rodriguez in the third inning and Ruggiano in the fourth. … Switch-hitters Ben Zobrist and Johnson batted right-handed against Marcum, whom the Rays consider more effective against lefties. … Dan Johnson hit a three-run homer to lead Triple-A Durham to a 9-3 win over Buffalo; it was his second in four games but just his third in 26 since being demoted.