As maddening as it may be to some observers, manager Joe Maddon has his reasons for constantly tweaking, adjusting and changing the Rays' batting order.
Primarily, because he can.
And he wants to.
Armed with complex data and matrixes from the front office that analyze each of his hitters' chances for success against that night's opponent, and equipped with a roster of versatile players who offer specific strengths (handedness, style of swing) and corresponding weaknesses, Maddon constructs each day's lineup as a singular work.
"It's really the gathering of as much information as possible," he said, "and trying to make your best guess on any given night vs. that pitcher."
That's why a player who had a big night doesn't necessarily play the next, and why another might seem to randomly bounce in and out of the lineup. Sometimes, the players wonder as well.
"My best spin on this is he's constantly trying to put us in situations to succeed," catcher Kelly Shoppach said. "Obviously he doesn't feel like we have enough everyday players to run the same lineup out there every night. He's a big numbers guy. He believes in numbers. You can't really argue with or dispute or question what someone believes."
When Maddon sits down each day, a few spots in the order are automatic: Carl Crawford hits second, Evan Longoria third and, lately, Carlos Peña again fourth. B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist are usually in there somewhere, one at the top, the other in the lower half. Most days, Jason Bartlett as well.
From there, Maddon has decisions to make.
He platoons catchers John Jaso (the lefty) and Shoppach, but departs from that regularly because he doesn't like to play either one three straight days.
He wants to use lefty swinging Reid Brignac more at second base, but also likes righty-hitting Sean Rodriguez against some right-handers. And so some days, he will play both, with Brignac at shortstop and Bartlett on the bench.
He has his pick of three rightfielders, in switch-hitting Zobrist, right-handed Gabe Kapler and left-handed Matt Joyce, who he wants to get in the field more often.
And though he can rotate at DH, Maddon, at least for now, is determined to keep Willy Aybar involved, at least against left-handed pitchers.
"We consider a lot of different variables," Maddon said. "And on top of that, we have a lot of different moving parts. A lot of teams don't have that. That's the unusual part of us, and while you're doing that, I think you keep everybody fresh and everybody involved, which I like."
The plan could change again soon if the Rays make a trade for a big-time hitter to slot into the middle of the lineup. More so if he's a position player (such as outfielders Jayson Werth and/or Corey Hart), not as much if it's a DH type (such as Luke Scott).
Going into the season, Maddon actually had a relatively set plan. But that changed when Bartlett got off to a slow start, Zobrist didn't take well to the No. 3 spot and Dioner Navarro, Pat Burrell, and Hank Blalock played their way out of jobs. And it continued to change as Jaso and Joyce arrived, as Rodriguez and Brignac emerged, as Upton and Peña showed signs of progress.
"They've kind of created this mess on their own," Maddon said. "And I really enjoy it."
In the Rays' first 94 games, Maddon used 75 different combinations, which sounds like a lot, but it's only fifth-most among AL teams.
"People talk about our lineup switching, but we're so … everybody plays. So you're going to see a lot of lineup switching just based on that," Maddon said. "And every lineup I'm writing out, I kind of like our lineup."