Tampa Bay Rays hope recent outburst is a sign that offense is peaking

TORONTO — The production has roller-coastered too much for anyone to get too bold in his assessment yet, but there are signs that the Rays offense — finally — may be peaking.

At least, that's what scoring 61 runs, hitting 17 home runs and batting around seven times in eight games has them thinking.

"We hope," 3B Evan Longoria said.

With 1B Carlos Peña continuing to struggle, and dropped to sixth in the order, RF/2B Ben Zobrist has shown some signs of progress, especially right-handed, with two hits Saturday.

And there's still that golden touch element with manager Joe Maddon — armed with extensive data from the front office — putting lefty swinging Brad Hawpe in the lineup against Toronto LHP Ricky Romero, and Hawpe hitting a grand slam.

"There's certain lefties I think he sees well, and I thought he might see Romero well," Maddon said.

PITCHING IN: Two changes are expected to the pitching staff this week.

LHP Jake McGee is in line to be called up when Triple-A Durham is done with the first round of the playoffs, with the chance he could pitch his way onto the postseason relief staff. McGee, who can get out right- and left-handers, has been tremendous at Durham, allowing one run and nine hits in 171/3 innings, with 27 strikeouts and three walks.

Look for an "adjustment" to the rotation, around Thursday's off day, that gets LHP David Price lined up to pitch the final game of the Yankees series next week in New York. The simplest move would be to move his next start (after Monday) up a day to Saturday, while keeping him on regular rest, and bumping RHP Jeff Niemann back a day.

SHIELDS DOWN: Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey met behind closed doors pregame with RHP James Shields, who gave away an 8-1 lead Friday and suggested he was taken out too early since he wasn't pitching badly.

Maddon, who stresses accountability, said they weren't concerned with what Shields said but did have some suggestions on how he has been pitching, evidenced by 12 losses, a 4.98 ERA and .285 average allowed.

"This was more just about trying to get him back on track with what I'm seeing performance-wise and what I think can help him," Maddon said.

And though he didn't want to provide specifics, Maddon did say Shields is bringing the problems on himself, specifically by overthrowing, with the increase in velocity resulting in a decrease in his usual command.

"I think he's trying too hard," Maddon said. "He's trying so hard he's getting away from what makes him good."

SLAMMING: Hawpe hasn't had much opportunity, starting for just the fourth time since his Aug. 31 addition. So the chance to help win a game obviously left him feeling good.

"That's a pretty easy question," he said.

IN A FLASH: CF Desmond Jennings got his first big-league hit, a pinch-hit double, and showed his impressive speed running down a fly ball on the rightfield side of right-center.

MINOR MATTERS: Durham stayed alive in the best-of-five opening round International League playoffs with an 8-1 victory over Louisville (Reds). RHP Paul Phillips pitched five shutout innings, and 1B Chris Richard had two hits including a grand slam. Game 5 is today at 5. … Class A Charlotte lost 7-2 to Tampa (Yankees) to fall behind 2-0 in the best-of-five Florida State League championship series. The series shifts to Steinbrenner Field, with Game 3 at 7 tonight. … The Rays extended their agreement with Class A Bowling Green (Ky.) through 2012.

MISCELLANY: DH Rocco Baldelli and C Dioner Navarro are expected to be in the lineup today. … Rays scouts are out watching AL contenders, and staff are analyzing video and compiling data. … After Thursday's day off, the Rays finish out playing 17 straight days. … OF Gabe Kapler and wife Lisa are hosting a benefit event Thursday for Brookwood Florida, a group home for teen girls. See swankysoiree.org for details.

Tampa Bay Rays hope recent outburst is a sign that offense is peaking 09/11/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 12, 2010 1:47pm]

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