ST. PETERSBURG — SS Jason Bartlett's return from the disabled list may not be that far off.
Bartlett said he surprised himself with how well his sprained left ankle felt Tuesday, when he fielded ground balls and had batting practice. Bartlett, eligible to come off the DL today, said his goal is to return Friday, but the more realistic option is Tuesday in Colorado. A minor-league assignment is still possible.
"I felt a lot better than I thought I would," Bartlett said. "I'm still not where I want to be. No need to rush it right now."
The next step will be running the bases Thursday. Bartlett says it has been frustrating to be out considering that when he went on the DL, he was leading the majors in hitting (.373). He has missed 14 games, and though manager Joe Maddon didn't offer a timetable, he said "we're pretty eager to get him back."
"Even in my (batting practice) session, I was trying to get that feel back and it's not coming back," Bartlett said, smiling. "I'm starting to stress, 'Is it going to be there when I start playing again?' It is frustrating. I was feeling great. We'll see what happens."
upset upton: CF B.J. Upton, who appeared to be upset over a couple of strike calls in his ninth-inning at-bat, was ejected by home plate umpire Mark Wegner after later flying out.
Upton came to the plate with one on and no outs. He got ahead in the count, but a couple of inside pitches by LHP Brian Fuentes were called strikes. After Upton flew out, he continued to talk with Wegner as he headed to the dugout. Upton was unavailable for comment after his first ejection of the season.
"When you do come back on the field like that, an umpire is going to throw you out," Maddon said. "I like the fact that it meant so much to B.J., that he was upset. I understand that. But nevertheless, I understand why the umpire had to throw him out."
STILL ON TOP: Rays 3B Evan Longoria continues to be the overall leader in the AL All-Star voting. In the third update released Tuesday, Longoria has 1,560,358 votes, about 50,000 more than Yankees SS Derek Jeter, who has 1,511,418. Voting continues until the end of the month for the July 14 game.
Bartlett, despite being out the past two weeks, is still second, though a distant second, to Jeter among shortstops with 698,095 votes. LF Carl Crawford is fourth among outfielders with 698,470 votes, trailing Boston's Jason Bay, Texas' Josh Hamilton and Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki.
ONE MORE TIME: Tonight's starter, rookie RHP Jeff Niemann, said the extra day's rest helped his body recover from his last outing — a two-hitter against the Royals.
Maddon said if Niemann continues to command his curveball as he did in his last start, there could be more outings just like it. "You don't see that many curveballs like that, with that kind of command like (he had) last time," Maddon said. "And I believe that's what it should look like. I don't think that's an anomaly game. I think he's very capable of it."
KEEP IT SIMPLE: RHP Grant Balfour had a solid appearance Tuesday. But before the game, Maddon tried to put Balfour's performance this season (6.15 ERA) into perspective in comparision to last year's breakout.
"You look at (Balfour's) overall numbers, they're not that bad," Maddon said. "It's just he just kind of spoiled us last year. A lot of what he did and what J.P. (Howell) did last year was like, come on, like almost impossible to do those things. Maybe he's pitching like he's supposed to be pitching this year. And we just have to put it into perspective."
IN AND OUT: The Rays added the bullpen depth at Triple-A Durham by signing nine-year veteran RHP Jorge Julio, who has 99 career saves, a 17-34 record and a 4.43 ERA in 453 relief appearances. Julio, 30, began the season with Milwaukee and was 1-1, 7.79 in 15 appearances before being released last week. To make room, the Rays released RHP Chad Orvella.
MISCELLANY: DH Pat Burrell went 1-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout in his second rehab start at Double-A Montgomery. … Instant replay was used in the fifth inning Tuesday, confirming Howie Kendrick's triple after a two minute, 40 second delay.