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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon suggests interleague play's time has past

TORONTO — Rays manager Joe Maddon never has been a fan of interleague play, and with the 15th season set to open Friday, he has joined the chorus of those saying its time may be past.

"I think in the beginning it was an idea that fans kind of got into and it was kind of interesting," Maddon said. "I don't know that it's interesting any more."

His biggest issues:

• The impact it has on the schedule — in terms of greater imbalance competitively and travel inconveniences: "I'd rather have a balanced schedule within the American League and have us play in a more balanced way."

• The lack of appeal of most of the matchups. "There's some (Cubs-White Sox, Angels-Dodgers, Yankees-Mets), but to say that we're rivals with the Marlins, that's not true."

Also, Maddon said it creates advantages for the NL teams and dilutes the World Series pairing.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday that he felt the idea "has run its course" and also cited the lack of rivalries.

NO CONTACT: Maddon said he couldn't see from the dugout what looked on the replays like catcher's interference during B.J. Upton's ninth-inning at-bat, and Upton didn't say anything. By the end, both were much more upset at umpire Tim Welke's called third strike than the non-called interference.

SHORT STORY: Maddon spoke Wednesday with slumping Reid Brignac to further explain the plan to give Elliot Johnson more playing time at shortstop.

While there are no set parameters, Maddon told Brignac he would seek the best matchups, suggesting that occasional usage was the reason Brignac did better last season as the backup to Jason Bartlett.

"Reid's a young man, and he's going to be an everyday shortstop, and he's probably going to be that in the very near future," Maddon said. "But for right now, what's best for us is that I think we back off him a little bit, give Elliot a little more playing time and see how that all works out."

Johnson, with two hits Wednesday, is hitting .283. Brignac, who starts tonight vs. LHP Ricky Romero, is hitting .179.

TRAVEL TALE: To minimize wear and tear, RHP Andy Sonnanstine and LHP David Price, the starters for the first two games at the Marlins, didn't accompany the team to Toronto.

J.P. DUTY: Maddon is already formulating plans on how he will use LHP J.P. Howell, who is set to rejoin the team Friday (taking the place of either Rob Delaney or Adam Russell).

Howell, who completed his rehab from May 2010 shoulder surgery, will join RHPs Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth to form a high-leverage trio that Maddon will deploy based on matchups.

"It's really going to be good to get him back," Maddon said. "It opens up more possibilities among those three guys over the last three innings."

Maddon did caution that Howell will have to be handled a bit with care.

READY TO ROLL: RHP Wade Davis made several adjustments with pitching coach Jim Hickey during his between-starts bullpen session and is looking forward to getting on the mound tonight after a pair of unimpressive outings.

Davis say the inconsistencies in his velocity are an expected byproduct of his usual program of building arm strength into the season, though one he accelerated in 2010 to prove he was worthy of a rotation spot.

"It's been like that every year," he said. "I don't know if everything just gets looser and gets stronger as the year goes on, but it's something I'll continue to get better at."

MISCELLANY: Dan Johnson tonight makes his first start at first base since the Rays last faced a lefty starter (May 6). … Ben Zobrist extended his streak of reaching base to 23 games, and in getting a walk to nine.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon suggests interleague play's time has past 05/18/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 19, 2011 12:18am]
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