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Tampa Bay Rays' slumping B.J. Upton gets a night off to 'clear his head'

ST. PETERSBURG — Sensing slumping CF B.J. Upton was pressing too much at the plate, manager Joe Maddon sat him Wednesday night — and will again tonight against the White Sox — to help him "clear his mind" and "reset."

Maddon could sense frustration in Upton, who is hitting .210, including .146 in his past 23 games, and had a "nice conversation" with him before the game. He said Upton was available as a defensive replacement. Upton politely declined to comment.

"I really don't like playing a game without (Upton) in centerfield," Maddon said. "But I thought this was the right thing to do."

Maddon said he doesn't believe Upton's problem is physical or mechanical. He thinks Upton and 1B Carlos Peña, who is hitting .134 in May (11-for-82), are expanding their strike zones. Upton had struck out six times in his past three games, with 48 overall, compared with 17 walks.

"A lot of it is confidence right now," Maddon said. "When you get into a little bit of a bad run, a lot of it is confidence. If you can walk away from it for a couple days and clear yourself out, you have a much better chance of getting on track."

MLB CHECKING PHOTO FLAP: Major League Baseball officials are working to get a graphic photo that was posted anonymously and claimed to be of Evan Longoria taken off the web.

The picture surfaced on a Boston website Tuesday and has been picked up by several national sites. It shows a man's genitalia, with the anonymous poster claiming it was e-mailed to her by Longoria five years ago.

"There's nothing to comment on; there's nothing to pursue,'' said Paul Cohen, Longoria's agent. "It's a joke. This has nothing to do with him. There's no story. The appropriate people are dealing with it. This really has nothing to do with him.''

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said MLB security personnel are "pursuing the situation and working to get the pictures taken down,'' most likely through cease-and-desist orders.

Longoria, through the Rays, said of the issue: "I am not going to dignify that with a response.''

STANDING TALL: RHP Jeff Niemann will probably have fewer nerves in tonight's start than he did in his last one, a victory in his hometown, Houston, on Saturday, which was followed by a bowling gathering at Lucky Strike Lanes with 30 to 40 family and friends.

Niemann just hopes to continue his consistency this season, having given up three earned runs or fewer in all of his nine starts. He credits the Rays' defense for playing a role in his success and his aggressiveness on the mound.

"It's huge, knowing those guys are out there playing behind me," he said. "You almost get the feeling, just throw the ball out there and let them hit it and watch one of those guys run it down."

Home boys: As good as the Rays have been on the road, they fell to 13-10 at home, and Maddon had an interesting theory. "I think the Trop is a little bit angry with us right now based on the commentary regarding a new ballpark,'' he said. "We've got to settle it down somehow. Either that or we've just got to go back on the road at some point.''

trot talk: At least Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who riled a few Rays with his slow trot around the bases Monday (a season-longest 30.59 seconds), was relatively frisky in getting around the bases after homering Wednesday, 28.94 seconds, according to wezen-ball.com's Tater Trot Tracker.

MISCELLANY: C Kelly Shoppach (right knee sprain) blocked and threw to the bases, and said he plans to catch another bullpen session today and do sliding drills. … RHP Lance Cormier makes an appearance today at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg at 10:30 a.m. … OF Matt Joyce (elbow strain), rehabilitating at Class A Charlotte, played rightfield and went 1-for-4.

Tampa Bay Rays' slumping B.J. Upton gets a night off to 'clear his head' 05/26/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 10:21am]
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