Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon defends hitting coach Derek Shelton

Rays manager Joe Maddon calls hitting coach Derek Shelton, left, talking to Ben Zobrist, “really diligent.”

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2011)

Rays manager Joe Maddon calls hitting coach Derek Shelton, left, talking to Ben Zobrist, “really diligent.”

CLEVELAND — For those of you who blame hitting coach Derek Shelton for the Rays' extensive offensive struggles, manager Joe Maddon has a few choice words.

Maddon said he "absolutely" is pleased with Shelton's work and "it's not fair for him to be criticized at all." Further, Maddon said, he is amused at how quickly people try to target a scapegoat.

"I appreciate the work that he does," Maddon said before Friday's game. "He's really diligent. He works very hard with our guys. And he's very dedicated to his profession. So for those that want to go in that direction, please reference to them the fact that they have one of the hardest-working hitting coaches in Major League Baseball working here right now."

Going into play Friday, the Rays matched the Mariners for the second-lowest average in the majors at .231, were 22nd among the 30 teams with a .312 on-base percentage and 26th with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .684. Two regulars in the lineup, 1B Carlos Peña and DH Luke Scott, were hitting below .200, and six others were below .250.

But Maddon said the overall lack of offense isn't a reflection of Shelton's work, but a product of injuries to key players.

"I can't even tell you it's underperformed to this point" because key players have missed so much time, he said.

"When you have really good offensive players, an effective hitting coach looks like he's an even more effective hitting coach," Maddon said. "When you're working with a team that has a lot of injuries right now, a lot of guys getting more at-bats than they should, then probably sometimes that's going to reflect on him not doing as good of a job. And I totally disagree with that.

"For me, a bad hitting coach would be one that's not dedicated to his profession, one that's probably not trying to remain contemporary with what's going on in the game today and not attempt to utilize all the information that's at his disposal. That would be a guy that would be, to me, more worrisome or bothersome. Whereas a guy like 'Shelty,' who does all of that well, people are definitely barking up the wrong tree right there."

MEDICAL MATTERS: OF Matt Joyce, whose planned weekend return from an oblique strain was pushed back when he felt discomfort in his back Wednesday, said he will see a doctor Tuesday. There is no new timetable for his return. … OF Hideki Matsui got through his Thursday pinch-hitting appearance with no issues from his tight left hamstring. He should be available on that basis through Sunday, though Maddon said he might require a pinch-runner. … INF Jeff Keppinger (left triceps bruise) is also feeling better, though Maddon felt better keeping him on the bench for late-game use Friday than starting him and possibly having to take him out. … OF Sam Fuld (right wrist surgery) is set to begin what is expected to be a 20-day rehabilitation assignment with Class A Charlotte tonight in Jupiter.

DRAFT BREEZE: Twelfth-round pick C Courtney Hawkins, a USA Today high school All-American, passed on a scholarship from home-state Oklahoma to sign with the Rays, the Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City reported. … The Rays are said to be working optimistically on a deal with their top pick, 3B Richie Shaffer. The deadline is July 13.

MOORE BETTER: LHP Matt Moore said getting to the midpoint of his first full big-league season at 5-5 with a 4.17 ERA wasn't half bad after starting 1-5, 4.76: "I think most of all I'm looking forward to seeing what the second half has in store."

MISCELLANY: RF Ben Zobrist had his fourth three-or-more RBI game. … There is no TV coverage tonight. … Pitching plans for after the All-Star break aren't set, though it sounds as if RHP James Shields will start the opener against Boston July 13.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon defends hitting coach Derek Shelton 07/06/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 7, 2012 12:35am]

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