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Tampa Bay Rays' Upton feels good after return to field

The Rays are treating B.J. Upton as if he were just starting spring training.

The Rays are treating B.J. Upton as if he were just starting spring training.

PORT CHARLOTTE — CF B.J. Upton went 0-for-4 and played four innings of defense in a Triple-A exhibition against Baltimore on Tuesday, and though he's still trying to get his timing down, he said his surgically repaired left shoulder and left hand (bone bruise) came through fine.

Upton, in his first game action since getting hit by a pitch Saturday, acknowledged he might not play in a big-league exhibition before camp breaks.

Manager Joe Maddon has said a main concern is building up Upton's endurance for a nine-inning game, and the Rays are treating him as if he just started spring training.

"As far as the stamina I was pretty good today,'' Upton said. ''I probably could have gone longer if they would have let me, but obviously they wouldn't. So hopefully we'll get to five or six innings (soon)."

Upton struck out three times and flied out to rightfield. He said when he swung and missed, "it felt pretty good, so we're moving forward."

He made one catch and fielded a grounder in center, both in the fourth. He also pinch ran, stealing second before getting caught in a rundown between second and third.

"If I can get in a (big-league exhibition) with them, that'd be cool," Upton said. "But if not, I'll just get my work in down here and when I come back, I should be ready."

SLIDER SHARP: LHP Scott Kazmir said he made a point during his start in the Triple-A exhibition to throw more sliders.

It's Kazmir's put-away pitch, but one he struggled to feel comfortable with last season, when he started the year on the disabled list (left elbow strain).

But Tuesday, Kazmir was encouraged after throwing more sliders in a game than he had all spring and said it was "definitely the best it's felt in a while." He said he was able to throw it for strikes, on the first pitch or on 1-and-0 counts, and he got a couple of strikeouts when he "pumped it up a little bit to go game speed."

"Today, it felt like I wasn't thinking about it; it was coming off my hand perfect," Kazmir said. "I was right on top of it."

Kazmir said his arm felt "great" during his 51/3-inning, 89-pitch outing; he gave up four runs on six hits, including two homers. Most of his struggles came in the first inning, which was ended after 21 pitches and one out (following a three-run homer), with Kazmir saying he was working on hand movement early. He walked three and hit a batter but struck out seven.

"My arm feels way stronger every single start," Kazmir said. "This start here, I felt the strongest, for sure."

Maddon said Kazmir had "real good sliders" and good velocity on his fastball and made some nice adjustments after his command suffered early. "Overall, I thought it was a good day."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Upton feels good after return to field 03/24/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 6:25am]

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