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Tampa Bay Rays hitters getting more aggressive early in the count

BOSTON — Granted, it was just a couple of wins against the worst team in baseball — which just happens to be the Red Sox — but the Rays feel their hitting is finally starting to come around.

And primarily, it's because they're starting to hit earlier in each at-bat.

Obviously the injury to Evan Longoria and the unexpected "retirement" of Manny Ramirez — taking the Nos. 3-4 hitters out of their lineup — was a huge factor in their anemic early season efforts.

But manager Joe Maddon said analysis showed that opposing pitchers were using the patience of the Rays' hitters against them and were pitching extremely well while doing so.

So Maddon and hitting coach Derek Shelton discussed having their hitters be more aggressive earlier in counts, and the results over the past few days have been noticeable.

"What was happening was we were getting attacked early in counts everywhere we've been from the very first day with (Baltimore opening day starter Jeremy) Guthrie," Maddon said.

"We have a reputation of seeing pitches … and everyone's been trying to get ahead in the count on us, and we've been in a lot of bad counts. So I think our guys finally had enough of that, and we've attacked earlier in the count because we can.

"We have the DNA of working good at-bats — also we're going to strike out a lot, but we're also going to accept a lot of walks. But there's times when you have to just recognize that if the other team is going to try to take that away from you, you have to react to it. And I think we have."

After scoring eight runs in their first six games, and losing all six, the Rays have scored 31 in their past five (including 16 on Monday) and won three.

The counts can make a huge difference. Consider that the Rays' average in at-bats when they are behind in the count is .134 — a considerable dropoff even from their major-league- worst .202 overall mark — and .238 when they are even or ahead in the count.

Also important, Shelton said, was they remained positive and consistent in their approach while struggling and didn't get too frustrated when they were hitting balls well and were still getting out. Being able to relax in the 19-hit virtual festival on Monday helped. And so has the addition of Sam Fuld at the top of the order.

"I think the more we go, the more we'll be getting comfortable," he said, noting that for several hitters, this is the first time, or the first time in a while, they've started a season in the majors playing regularly, among them Reid Brignac, John Jaso, Sean Rodriguez and Dan and Elliot Johnson.

As bad as the Rays were early on, Maddon remained confident by taking the long-term view that every team goes through struggles, and they just happened to be going through it at the start of the season when it's most glaring.

"You just have to be able to identify what's going on and evaluate it properly," Maddon said.

"We just weren't hitting. Our hitting was horrible for 10 days, so that's why we lost games. That's it. It wasn't that there was bad pitching or bad defense or guys not caring or that their effort wasn't good enough or that they weren't prepped. We just weren't hitting."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Who's counting?

Here are the Rays and the AL averages based on counts:

Rays AL

Behind .134 .195

Even .259 .259

Ahead .207 .289

Source: Stats Inc.

Tampa Bay Rays hitters getting more aggressive early in the count 04/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 10:56pm]
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