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UPTON'S RETURN BRIEF, UNPRODUCTIVE

B.J. Upton's return to the lineup Wednesday didn't go well.

He misplayed one fly ball and didn't go hard after another in center while going 0-for-2. Then he was removed from the game in the sixth inning when his sprained left ankle flared up.

"We're going to have to rest him for a bit," manager Joe Maddon said.

Upton said it got worse as the game went on, but he hopes to return after a few days of rest and treatment. "I want to play again,'' he said. "Hopefully these couple days will knock it out.''

It was the latest installment in a season he'd like to put behind him as quickly as possible.

"Make it through, finish strong, build for next year," Upton said before the game. "I'd like to flush this season down the toilet personally, for me."

It has been a disappointment all the way around, starting with never regaining full strength in his left shoulder after offseason surgery, struggling at the plate and making mistakes in the field and on the bases and being criticized for his attitude and reaction to being dropped from leadoff to the bottom of the order.

The .236 average, nine homers and 42 RBIs are a poor reflection of his ability, Upton said, and he was confident he would rebound. He just feels bad about not being able to do more this year.

"I'm not worried about me; that's going to happen," he said. "But this has been tough for me because I feel like if I had played the way I know how to, we may have given ourselves a better chance.

"There were so many times when I came to bat this year with runners in scoring position (23-for-99), and I've come up with a couple of bases-loaded opportunities (3-for-10), and I've just got nothing out of them. It's just not me, you know what I mean?

"I could have helped, especially with the one-run ball games that we lose. I'm not saying I'd get a hit every time, but..."

Pitching in: Abysmal bullpen work has been a huge factor in their latest losing streak, but Maddon said the relievers shouldn't get all the blame.

"The fingers are always pointing at the bullpen; we have to score more runs, too," he said. "We've put a lot of pressure on our boys with a limited number of runs scored. ...

"Our guys have been coming through in these moments all year long, and then more recently it's gotten away from us. I don't know to what extent mental or physical fatigue has to play in this, but there's all of that to be considered.''

J.P. duty:J.P. Howell's dropoff has been a big part of the problem, and though he will continue to be used, Maddon acknowledged fatigue may be part of it.

"He's pitched more relief innings (153) than any pitcher for the last two years at a really high level against some very good hitters in some stressful moments, and against righties and lefties; he's not just asked to get a lefty out.

"He's been in a lot of key situations. He's done a great job. He's a great makeup guy. He needs to eat a little bit more, but other than that, he'll be fine. I'm not worried about him. I just want to make sure that we take care of him properly for the rest of this year and leading into next year, too."

Minor matters: Class A Charlotte beat Fort Myers (Twins) 7-4 to tied the best-of-three Florida State League opening-round playoffs, with Game 3 tonight in Fort Myers. ... Triple-A Durham beat Louisville (Reds) 8-4 in the opener of the best-of-five International League first-round series. RHP Jeremy Hellickson struck out 12 in 52/3 innings. Game 2 is tonight in Durham.

Miscellany: Not the best timing: Wednesday was rookie dress-up day, with dresses and wigs waiting in their lockers. ... Third-base coach Tom Foley turned 50 on Wednesday. ... The Rays were swept in a series of three or more games in New York for the first time since Sept.12-14, 2006.

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