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Tampa Bay Rays hope passing of trade deadline helps players relax, produce

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays, like other teams, still can make trades involving players who clear waivers (and in some cases, players who get claimed), and they figure to run many of their players through to see what opportunities arise.

But with as much that is made of the July 31 deadline for nonwaiver deals, manager Joe Maddon is hoping the sense of relief that seemed to spread through the Safeco Field clubhouse on Sunday turns into a boost when the Rays resume play tonight.

Specifically, that relaxed players become more productive players.

"I'm happy with the guys we have," Maddon said. "You look at where we're at right now, and you look at the skill level of our guys, there's still something to be derived from several people.

"And if we get that out of them for the last month or two, it can be like an acquisition."

One player who certainly fits that category is CF B.J. Upton, the focal point of extensive speculation in the weeks leading up to the deadline whose performance seemed to suffer as he hit .096 (5-for-52) in his past 13 games — after hitting .390 (16-for-41) in his previous 11. His season average is down to .224, 10th lowest of the 152 qualified big-league hitters.

"I think overall he handled it well," Maddon said, "and I'd like to believe now that he's settled you might see him turn it on a bit."

Players claimed on waivers can either be pulled back (as most are), let go to the claiming team for nothing (as those with big contracts are), or traded to the claiming team. Players who clear waivers can be traded to any team.

Higher-priced veterans tend to be involved in the more interesting situations, making Johnny Damon ($5.25 million) among the Rays to watch. The Rays may also be aggressive in claiming players, which is done by league in reverse order of record.

KING DAVID: With a .500 record (9-9) and one win in his past six starts, LHP David Price (who won 19 last year and was AL Cy Young Award runner-up) takes the mound tonight trying to turn his disappointing season around.

"I need to definitely throw better," Price said. "I can definitely get into a little groove here the last two months I have left, so that's what I'm going to try to do."

Price has been on a bit of an irregular work schedule as the Rays have manipulated his usage based on matchups and recently went to a six-man rotation. But he said he wasn't blaming that.

More relevant, he said, are his mistakes with runners in scoring position, evidenced by a .300 average and .838 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in those situations vs. .219 and .627 otherwise. "I've got to control damage," he said. "I feel like that's probably what hurt me the most this year."

TALL AT SHORT: INF Sean Rodriguez insists he can do anything on a baseball field, which, of course, includes playing shortstop in the big leagues. That was his primary position coming up in the Angels system until he moved to second in 2008. Since given the opportunity for regular duty (nine starts in the past 10 games) following the demotion of Reid Brignac, he has been impressive and at times dazzling.

"At second base you're used to seeing that from him," Maddon said after a series of impressive plays this weekend. "You're not used to seeing that at shortstop. At second base he never appears to be in trouble. Sometimes at short he appears to be in trouble."

MISCELLANY: RHP Juan Cruz (groin strain) will be activated off the DL today, with RHP Mike Ekstrom optioned back to Triple-A Durham on Monday. … OF Matt Carson, 30, was acquired for cash from Oakland where he had 19 HRs at Triple A, and was assigned to Durham. … Durham goes for its 6,000th victory in its history tonight, with top prospect LHP Matt Moore on the mound.

Tampa Bay Rays hope passing of trade deadline helps players relax, produce 08/01/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 1, 2011 9:36pm]

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