Tampa Bay Rays reliever Dan Wheeler responding well to more frequent work

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon has used RHP Dan Wheeler more often recently in an effort to get him back on track.

The veteran reliever has responded by returning to form.

Wheeler retired the two batters he faced Sunday against the Mariners and has pitched 21/3 scoreless innings over the past two days. He has given up one hit over his past four appearances, bouncing back nicely from a rough stretch two weeks ago when he picked up losses in consecutive outings, allowing winning solo homers in each.

"It's been good," Wheeler said. "In baseball, everyone goes through a rough stretch, so no one is going to be perfect every time. It's just a matter of continuing to work and get the job done."

Maddon said he thought Wheeler's breaking ball looked sharper and said his velocity Saturday in his previous outing was 88-90, "which is good numbers for him." "He just looked like he was better able to throw the ball where he wanted to," Maddon said.

Though Wheeler said it's "always great to pitch," he said the work he does in side throwing sessions is key in keeping him sharp even if he doesn't get in a game for several days.

"It doesn't matter when I pitch or how long I have off," Wheeler said. "It's no excuse. I've got to get out there and, when I'm called upon, get the job done."

LINING UP: The lineup Sunday had some twists, as LF Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist were given a day off (though Zobrist pinch-hit in the sixth). Maddon said he had planned in advance to do so, especially for giving Crawford's legs a break on the Tropicana Field turf, but the fact the Rays won the first two games of the series made it a more comfortable decision.

Rocco Baldelli started in rightfield for the second time since getting called up Sept. 1, going 0-for-3. He was pulled for left-handed hitting Reid Brignac in the eighth when Seattle brought in RHP Dan Cortes. Otherwise, Baldelli said he felt good enough physically to play a full game in the field. Seeing how well, and how often, Baldelli can play defense could play a role in postseason roster plans.

MEDICAL MATTERS: 3B Evan Longoria (strained left quad) played catch on the field before the game, and Maddon said he's progressing well. Longoria will be re-evaluated today. He has said he hopes to return by the middle of this week.

"We'll still give him a couple more days more than likely," Maddon said. "He needs to get out and take some swings, go out there and jog a little bit, and see how he feels."

WADING IN: Though RHP Wade Davis is coming off an abbreviated start Wednesday, going just 21/3 innings (33 pitches) due to a lengthy rain delay in New York, he said he didn't change anything in his between-starts routine and hopes to extend his seven-game winning streak tonight against Baltimore.

"I feel good, I feel fresh," he said. "I feel ready to go."

Davis said the key in his recent success — 3-0 with a 2.97 ERA in six starts since coming off the disabled list — is "staying within myself." And though the rookie has pitched well against the Orioles, he's aware of the challenges their offense presents.

"They're obviously playing really well right now, so they're a team you have to come with some good stuff against," Davis said. "They've got a lot of pop; they've got a real good lineup in there."

MISCELLANY: Desmond Jennings went 1-for-2, including an RBI triple in the fifth, the first of his career. … RHP Mike Ekstrom tossed a perfect ninth to extend his scoreless streak to 12 innings (10 games). … SS Jason Bartlett went 3-for-4 and is hitting .333 (25-for-75) off left-handed pitchers since the All-Star break. … INF Willy Aybar, who played third base Sunday for the injured Longoria, became the fourth Ray in four games to start at third. He made a fielding error in the seventh.

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Dan Wheeler responding well to more frequent work 09/26/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 26, 2010 10:39pm]

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