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Tampa Bay Rays to ease shortstop Jason Bartlett back into everyday role

ATLANTA — Though SS Jason Bartlett was back in the lineup Wednesday after spending nearly three weeks on the disabled list, manager Joe Maddon said he is going to ease Bartlett back into his everyday role.

Bartlett, recovered from a strained right hamstring, may be off today against the Braves and could get another day off in this weekend's series against the Marlins. Not pushing Bartlett could help the Rays with what Maddon considers a good problem: INFs Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac are playing so well, Maddon said, "I've got to keep them active somehow."

That means Ben Zobrist will play primarily rightfield, and Maddon can work in Rodriguez and Brignac more partly based on matchups. "The fact those two guys got a chance to play as often as they have together has done a lot for their self-confidence," Maddon said. "And it has done a lot for our confidence in them later down the road."

Bartlett said he's ready to go, having tested his hamstring in nearly every way on his rehabilitation assignment. He batted eighth Wednesday, going 0-for-2.

Zobrist said he's feeling more comfortable in rightfield every day and enjoys the challenge of "seeing the game in a new way."

"I definitely don't want to ever lose the ability to go in (the infield) and help the team out," Zobrist said. "But if I somehow got stuck in the outfield, I wouldn't be against that."

KNOCK, KNOCK: One guy who would love to crack the outfield is Matt Joyce. Joyce, hitting .343 for Triple-A Durham after rehabilitating an elbow strain, said he is "100 percent convinced" he's ready to return to the Rays.

Joyce, who has reached base 10 straight times and is hitting .438 against lefties, said his elbow is no longer a concern.

"He's pounding on the door pretty loudly right now," Maddon said. "So we're paying attention."

Joyce, who had a good shot at making the opening day roster before the elbow injury, is taking the situation in stride. "As long as the team is winning, I'm sure they'll stick with the winning team," he said, adding he considers himself lucky to be playing every day.

"Some things you can't control, and it's been frustrating," Joyce said via cell phone from Durham. "But I can either look at it like, 'Oh, I should be there,' or 'I missed my opportunity,' and I can be upset or depressed. But I don't think that would be the best route to take. … At least I get to play the game."

BOUNCE BACK: RHP James Shields, coming off what he called the worst start of his career, said the five days between outings "is enough time to forget about it."

But Shields said he also learned something from watching video of Friday's loss to the Marlins, in which he gave up 10 runs over 31/3 innings.

"I was missing by about a ball length," Shields said. "They call (baseball) a game of inches for a reason. Instead of pitching at the knees, I'm pitching right above the knees, and these guys are getting paid to hit me."

Shields said he feels good physically but acknowledged that facing another good fastball-hitting team presents a challenge.

"If you're seeing (Shields) spot up the corner and getting called strikes with his fastball," Maddon said, "he's probably going to have a pretty good night, because the other stuff plays off of that. When he's having to go to his offspeed too often early, that's when he's normally going to have a shorter outing."

dRAFT BREEZE: Second-round pick RHP Jacob Thompson said he signed and will report to Class A Hudson Valley. The Rays also signed LHP Matthew Spann (25th round), OF Kevin Kiermaier (31st), RHP Michael Broyles (40th) and RHP Mickey Jannis (44th).

Tampa Bay Rays to ease shortstop Jason Bartlett back into everyday role 06/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 17, 2010 12:43am]

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