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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon toggles back to B.J. Upton in leadoff spot

MIAMI — Taking it from the top, one of the primary reasons Rays manager Joe Maddon hasn't been able to settle on a lineup has been the lack of a dependable leadoff hitter.

CF B.J. Upton was back in the top spot Friday against Marlins LHP Nate Robertson as Maddon continued the quest, having resigned himself for now to a platoon, with rookie C/DH John Jaso getting the call against right-handers and the job unsettled against lefties.

"It would be nice to really feel good about No. 1," Maddon said.

The Rays have used six players in the leadoff slot; among AL teams, only the last-place Orioles have experimented more. And the Rays have gotten the least out of them in terms of batting average, matching the Orioles for the league's lowest at .244 going into Friday's game. They do rank better in terms of on-base percentage (sixth, .339) and slugging percentage (eighth, .354).

"I'm just looking for the right slot; we need to get that to be consistently productive," Maddon said.

The way Maddon is thinking now — "more or less" — is that Upton (hitting .333 in the leadoff slot with a .471 on-base percentage, .217 elsewhere) will stay at the top against lefties, though Maddon said that he's open to giving SS Jason Bartlett another shot once he gets hot and that he is "still considering one other thing."

He praised Jaso's work, saying he's "done a pretty good job … whether it's hitting or working good at-bats or accepting his walks." The numbers don't quite support the assessment, though. Jaso is hitting .250 with a .364 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot and .295 elsewhere in the order.

Maddon said he felt good about the next four-five spots in the lineup, planning to stick with LF Carl Crawford second, 3B Evan Longoria third, 1B Carlos Peña fourth, RF Ben Zobrist fifth, and against right-handers, Upton sixth.

WALK THIS WAY: Crawford was among the unlikeliest choices to match an obscure team record by walking multiple times in three consecutive games, especially because he had taken only 19 free passes in his first 61 games. Only Peña (in 2007 and 2008) had done so before in team history.

"I couldn't believe it happened, either; I was surprised," Crawford said. "It's hard to walk me."

Maddon has encouraged Crawford to walk more often and said Friday that by doing so, Crawford could go from being a .300 hitter to at least the .320 range.

"For him to hit .320 or better, he has to be willing to accept his walks," Maddon said. "And I'm not saying look for walks, just accept them."

HIT MAN: Most of the Rays' pitchers revel in the chance to hit during the interleague road games. Not Jeff Niemann, who starts tonight having gone 0-for-8 with five strikeouts in his previous ventures to the plate.

"It's fun till you get up there and you swing and miss every single time," Niemann said.

MINOR MATTERS: Short-season Class A Hudson Valley opened its season Friday with a 5-2 loss at Aberdeen; 13th-round draft pick Robby Price had two of the Renegades' three hits. … 1B/DH Ryan Shealy, a former Gator, opted out of his contract with Triple-A Durham (after hitting .238 with 10 homers, 38 RBIs) and signed with Boston's Triple-A Pawtucket team.

MISCELLANY: Former Ray Cliff Floyd, about 30 pounds lighter than his 2008 playing form, visited the clubhouse before the game. … Bartlett extended his career hitless streak against Marlins lefty Robertson to 0-for-27, the longest such streak among active hitters and pitchers. … Florida's Chris Coghlan, who played at East Lake High, had his 10th multihit game in his past 16.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon toggles back to B.J. Upton in leadoff spot 06/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 19, 2010 1:16pm]

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