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Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett continues red-hot hitting against former team

MINNEAPOLIS — SS Jason Bartlett acknowledges hitting home runs "means a little more" when it comes against his former team, the Twins.

Bartlett was a little more "pumped" playing against his buddies Monday night, and it showed, as he continued his red-hot April by going 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs.

Bartlett bumped his average to .371, best among American League shortstops, and is on pace to have the best April for average in club history. His three homers this season are two shy of his career high.

"He's been the gasoline," 1B Carlos Peña said, "that drives our engine."

The key for Bartlett has been keeping the ball out of the air, hitting line drives and using the whole field; he also has seven infield hits. He said he has been more disciplined; he entered Monday hitting .333 with two strikes, second in the AL. Though Bartlett has shown signs of power, 19 of his first 26 hits were singles.

"I'm not trying to do as much; I'm not trying to hit that three-run home run with nobody on this year," he said. "It's just a matter of feeling more comfortable, and just knowing what guys are going to try and do to me, and going with that approach."

Old self: To manager Joe Maddon, LF Carl Crawford is "starting to look like his old self."

Crawford had his five-game hitting streak (10-for-23) snapped Monday but has raised his average from .224 to .284. But what has impressed Maddon most is how Crawford is doing it: by playing to his strengths, keeping the ball on the ground and hitting more line drives.

Crawford went in leading the AL with eight infield hits, a result of him not trying to do too much, as he was during his early season struggles.

"Now what's going to happen next, my prediction is you're going to start seeing balls go into the gap, down the line, and then you're going to see a couple more homers," Maddon said. "He's starting to get his confidence back."

Same thing: When RHP James Shields takes the mound tonight, Maddon wouldn't mind if he looked a lot like he did in his last start, when he gave up one run on four hits in a 1-0 loss to the Mariners. "That's typical Shields, pitching with his fastball primarily," Maddon said. "I think he's been utilizing his curve a little bit more, which I really like, to go with a real good straight changeup and his cutter."

Hammel time: RHP Jason Hammel, who competed with RHP Jeff Niemann for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring before being traded to the Rockies, made his first start for Colorado, giving up five runs, four earned, and seven hits in three innings against the Padres.

MINOR MATTERS: RHP Jason Isringhausen continued his rehab assignment Monday, giving up a run in one inning for Double-A Montgomery; he'll move onto Durham Wednesday or Thursday. … Montgomery 1B Rhyne Hughes was named the Southern League's hitter of the week after he hit four home runs while batting .375 and driving in seven runs. … Top 2008 pick SS Tim Beckham has reached base safely in 12 straight games for Bowling Green. … OF Matt Joyce has hit safely in six of his past seven games for Durham, increasing his average to .293, behind only Jon Weber (.302).

MISCELLANY: The Rays will not only miss Twins C Joe Mauer (back), scheduled to return to the lineup Friday, but manager Ron Gardenhire said OF Carlos Gomez will likely miss the next two games to be in Florida for the birth of his baby. … The next Inside the Rays program on Sun Sports (Thursday at 10 p.m.) will recount Evan Longoria's path from an unheralded high school player to an All-Star.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett continues red-hot hitting against former team 04/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 7:30am]

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