SEATTLE — C Kelly Shoppach isn't doing well offensively, his .146 average the second lowest of any major-leaguer with at least 75 at-bats.
But Shoppach believes the best way for him to play better is to play more.
"The more you play, the better you're going to feel in the box," he said.
Shoppach expected to be in the lineup Friday against Seattle LHP Jason Vargas, said he didn't know why manager Joe Maddon left him out — "Those are questions for him," he said — and planned to ask Maddon himself why.
Maddon had his answer ready: The decision was a product of matchups based on statistical analysis that showed that lefty swinging John Jaso had a better chance against Vargas (.329 average allowed to lefties, .242 to righties) and not because of Shoppach's overall lack of production, which also includes a .220 slugging percentage and .237 on-base percentage (for a .457 OPS).
Still, Maddon acknowledged: "We do need to get more out of him, and he knows that. He's working really hard. He's really trying to make some adjustments. We're just trying to get him to take his batting practice into the game because his BPs have been great."
Also, Maddon said, Shoppach's work behind the plate has been extraordinarily good, "as well as I've seen him catch."
While Shoppach is certain he would benefit from playing more regularly, he said he is confident his offense will pick up.
"With or without, I think it will," he said. "It can't get much worse, can it?"
MEDICAL MATTERS: 1B Casey Kotchman took swings and ground balls for the first time since spraining his right ankle Sunday, and the initial reviews left him optimistic he could return to the lineup today.
"I hope so," Kotchman said. "It feels really well. It responded good to the treatment."
Maddon said after Friday's game that he was cautiously optimistic Kotchman could play today, but wasn't 100 percent and wouldn't be until checking with him in the morning.
The Rays have missed Kotchman's bat (.361 average), his glove and the steadying influence he has on the infielders as they have eight errors in the five games without him.
INF Elliot Johnson is getting comfortable with the black brace on his previously sprained knee but otherwise had a good day running and fielding ground balls hit at him. He has a few more tests (such as lateral movement) to pass before a return date is set. Maddon said it was "realistic" he could be ready when eligible Wednesday in Anaheim.
REHAB REPORT: RHP Jeff Niemann threw well in the first of his three scheduled rehab starts, allowing one single over four innings for Class A Charlotte, striking out two while throwing 55 pitches. Niemann, out since May 4 with a lower back strain, will next pitch Wednesday for Triple-A Durham.
SHIELDS NOT DOWN: RHP James Shields was not too troubled by his poor four-inning, four-homer outing in Thursday's 8-2 loss.
"It was just a bad day," he said. "That's about it. I'm not going to put too much thought into it really. I made some good pitches they laid off of, and I made some bad pitches they hit."
Shields was undone by a rough second inning that started with a solo homer and then a dropped throw by fill-in 1B Felipe Lopez that led to four more runs, including the first of Carlos Peguero's two homers.
Shields said he needs to do a better job of controlling the damage. "I'm going to keep pitching the way I've been pitching," he said.
MISCELLANY: DH Johnny Damon extended his streak of reaching base to 29 games, two shy of his career best and second-longest active streak to Florida's Logan Morrison (33). … Ben Zobrist had his first steal since April 29. ... Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready performed the anthem. … RHP Jim Paduch, 28, was signed from independent Chico and will join Double-A Montgomery; Paduch briefly reached Triple A in 2006 with the Reds. … RHP Jeremy Hellickson, who starts today, was the first AL player to win the pitcher (or player) and rookie of the month awards at the same time in the 11 years both have been given out.