ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon said it was "very unfair" for fans to boo DH Manny Ramirez for his 1-for-16 (.063) start.
CF B.J. Upton agreed, calling it "unbelievable."
If anything, Maddon said Ramirez — signed to a $2 million free-agent deal in the offseason — is trying too hard.
Ramirez, who went 0-for-4 Tuesday with three strikeouts, left the clubhouse before it was open to the media, but the Rays quickly came to his defense.
"I want the fans to know he works, this man really works, this man really cares," Maddon said. "It's not working for him right now, but he's going to be just fine. … We need to let him be himself and let Manny be Manny and go up there and not try to carry us. The last thing I want him to do is feel like he has to carry us."
Ramirez, 38, one of the best hitters of his generation, has 555 career home runs and two World Series titles.
"Here's a man who has had an unbelievable career," Upton said. "This game is not easy. His start obviously hasn't been what people wanted it to be. But if everybody could do it, everybody in America would be playing right now. They're not and he's done it for 16 years. So that bothered me a little bit. Because I think if you're a true baseball fan, you know what type of player he is and the type of damage he can do. It's way too long of a season to be booing somebody right now. That I do not understand, not one bit."
FIXED IT: RHP Jeff Niemann said a mechanical adjustment in his delivery was key in keeping the ball down, and settling down, after he gave up four runs in the first two innings. "Early on, we were missing up, and that's a bad sign for me," Niemann said. "I got the ball down and started getting ground balls, started having quick innings. That's the guy I want to be every single time out."
IN THE SWING: Upton, who hit a two-run homer, has a four-game hitting streak, matching 2008 for his best to start a season.
HERE'S JOHNNY: LF Johnny Damon, who missed Sunday's game with a sore right calf, returned to the lineup, picking up his first hit as a Ray (an infield single) and stealing a base before getting replaced in the eighth. Maddon said he'll keep an eye on Damon, especially playing on the Trop turf, and see how he feels before today's day game.
NOT SO FAST: With Forbes.com blogger Mike Ozanian the latest to suggest the Rays franchise is in danger of being eliminated, commissioner Bud Selig told SiriusXM's "Mad Dog Radio" Tuesday that MLB officials have not even considered it.
"The only thing I can tell you about contraction is we haven't discussed it at all," Selig said. "I'm not sure where that came from. We have not discussed contraction at all." Players union chief Michael Wiener has also said it is not likely.
Writing under the headline "Contraction Looming for Tampa Bay Ray," Ozannian claims there is a "groundswell building" in MLB to dump the Rays by the end of the 2014 season.
NEXT UP: RHP Jeremy Hellickson said he's "excited as I can be" for today's first start, and though he was sidelined with a hamstring injury early in spring training, Maddon said he's stretched out enough to throw 90-100 pitches.
MINOR MATTERS: Class A Charlotte set its roster, and it will be without prized SS prospect Hak-Ju Lee (the South Korean acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade) for the first 10-14 days of the season as he recovers from chicken pox.
MISCELLANY: RHPs Juan Cruz, Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta each pitched a scoreless inning, giving the Rays bullpen a 1.93 ERA. … RHP Wade Davis received the 2010 Rays Most outstanding rookie award before the game.
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.