Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon says Carlos Peña not to blame for offense's struggles

ARLINGTON, Texas — Manager Joe Maddon didn't put Carlos Peña in the lineup against the Rangers on Wednesday, but he came strongly to the defense of the .188-hitting first baseman, saying he should not be considered the "whipping boy" or "lightning rod" for the team's offensive struggles.

"I refuse to let people just jump on Carlos," Maddon said.

Peña went to Maddon's office after Tuesday's game — he struck out four times to extend his latest skid to 0-for-17 (10 strikeouts) — to initiate what became a 30-minute talk about hitting, his performance and broader subjects such as literature.

"I understand that (Peña has) not necessarily played to the level that he thought or that we thought," Maddon said. "But I refuse to use him as a lightning rod for anything that's going awry with our offense right now."

Maddon reiterated his oft-stated view that Peña is affected dramatically by the defensive shifts used against him but acknowledged that his "confidence has taken a hit based on a lot of well-struck balls being outs."

Maddon said Peña is guilty of "expanding his strike zone" and needs to be better at organizing it, by swinging at strikes and taking balls, and going to the plate with more of an approach of not making an out as opposed to trying to get a hit.

"I really try to look at the good with the bad and try to balance it out as well as I possibly can," Maddon said. "For me, there is no whipping boy on this team. We win together, we lose together."

Peña has the lowest batting average of the 140 major-leaguers with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, and the second-most strikeouts, 159. Maddon will try to juggle keeping Peña involved and confident while also using other players at first base to maximize the Rays' overall offense.

JOYCE BETTER: OF Matt Joyce said the left forearm strain that forced him from Tuesday's game felt better, and he remained confident it was not serious enough to sideline him for long. Joyce wasn't in the lineup Wednesday and probably won't be tonight against the Blue Jays. Maddon was hoping for a Friday return.

FIRST AT THIRD: Trying to use as many right-handed batters as he could, Maddon started Elliot Johnson at third for the second time in three nights, Johnson's first appearances at the position since May 1. Johnson, who says he is not as comfortable at third as he is at the middle infield, may get more time there given Sean Rodriguez's broken right hand. "It's not ideal," Johnson said. "But it's what we've got to do."

HELP ON THE WAY: RHP Chris Archer was pulled from his start at Triple-A Durham after one inning (and 30 pitches) in case he is needed by the Rays this weekend. With RHP Jeff Niemann returning to the rotation Saturday from a broken leg, the Rays want to make sure they have enough depth in the bullpen. … Maddon said to expect around four callups Saturday, when rosters expand, mentioning, without naming names, a third catcher (Chris Gimenez or Stephen Vogt), a pinch-runner (Rich Thompson) and bullpen help (Cesar Ramos/Brandon Gomes/Archer).

MISCELLANY: LHP David Price forgot his passport and had to fly home to Tampa today to get it, then will fly to Toronto. He doesn't pitch until Sunday. … 1B Jeff Keppinger had four hits, all singles. … B.J. Upton's three-run homer was the Rays' first since July 25. … Maddon was concerned about a 4.1 magnitude earthquake that struck "relatively close" to his Long Beach, Calif., home then relieved after his wife, Jaye, said all was well. … Sun Sports picked up the Sept. 9 game vs. Texas and dropped the Sept. 13 matinee at Baltimore. … Class A Charlotte was perfect-gamed by Palm Beach RHP Chris Corrigan.

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