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Tampa Bay Rays target road games as spot for improvement

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged that a major factor in the Rays missing the playoffs last season was their poor performance on the road (32-49).

And to get back in the postseason, Maddon said, his team must at least have a .500 road record this season, something he says "we're capable of."

Reaching that goal starts today in Baltimore, where the Rays begin a 10-game, 11-day trip.

"I think we can elevate our game mentally," Maddon said. "We just have to think about it and almost will ourselves to play a better game on the road. Because we're such a good team (at Tropicana Field), that we're going to go away and not be such a good team, that doesn't make any sense."

The Rays tied for the third-best home record in baseball last season (52-29), but their home-road differential in winning percentage (.247) was the largest in the majors. Maddon couldn't pinpoint any specific reasons why, other than saying they need to play better late in games.

"I think now we're at the level of experience where that is no longer an excuse — that we're youthful and haven't been there," Maddon said. "We're experienced enough now to play well on the road, too, and we have to do that."

On track: RHP Jeff Niemann is expected to make his next scheduled start, Tuesday in Baltimore, after feeling good in Sunday's bullpen session.

Niemann, who suffered a bruised right shoulder after being hit by a line drive Thursday, threw 25 pitches and felt "free and easy." While there's still a little soreness, he's confident it shouldn't be an issue.

Maddon said "all indications are go" for Niemann to pitch in Baltimore.

Howell update: LHP J.P. Howell (left shoulder weakness) played catch Sunday, making 20 throws from 45 feet, saying he felt really good and encouraged about his progress. Howell said he will get another strength test today, then throw from 60 feet Tuesday, working his way up from there, with mid to late May as the target return date.

Trop moment: 3B Evan Longoria got a circuslike single in the sixth, thanks to the Trop's quirks.

With two outs, Longoria's towering infield popup confused Yankees fielders, bouncing off a speaker on the B-ring catwalk in fair territory and onto the infield dirt. Yankees manager Joe Girardi argued with the umpires. Though the Rays loaded the bases, B.J. Upton popped out to end the threat.

"I thought it was a foul ball," Girardi said. "You know, it's something you have to deal with; both teams have to deal with it. But I'm glad it didn't hurt us."

Pat's bat: DH Pat Burrell went 2-for-4 for his first multihit game since Sept. 20 vs. Toronto (3-for-3). In between those two games, Burrell has hit .075 (3-for-40) but says his work with hitting coach Derek Shelton has him on the right track. "It feels a lot better than it has," Burrell said. "But I have a long way to go. … It's one game, but that's how it starts."

Miscellany: OF Matt Joyce (elbow strain), on a rehab assignment in Triple-A Durham, was hit in the left forearm with a pitch in Saturday's game and is day to day.

Tampa Bay Rays target road games as spot for improvement 04/11/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 12, 2010 7:21am]
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