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BRIGNAC SITS, ISN'T BENCHED

Sean Rodriguez started at shortstop Tuesday so he would have a chance to play during a long stretch of facing right-handed starters, manager Joe Maddon insisted, and not to keep struggling Reid Brignac from playing.

Maddon said he actually was encouraged by Brignac's form in the weekend games in Baltimore (though not the 1-for-9 results) and expects him to break out of his seasonlong skid this week. Brignac is hitting .195, has a .430 OPS and is the only player in the majors with 50 or more plate appearances who doesn't have an extra-base hit.

"I thought his swing was starting to come back," Maddon said. "I feel strongly you're going to see him swing the bat well over the next week."

But Maddon volunteered an interesting observation, then quickly said it wasn't a hint of what was to come, in pointing out that Brignac's 2010 offensive success (.256, 8 HRs, 45 RBIs) came primarily when he was filling in for since-traded starter Jason Bartlett.

"If you look at last year when he did really well, he wasn't playing every day," Maddon said. "He was playing sporadically, or at the right times with the right matchups, etc. And he did pretty good by that.

"I'm not suggesting that that's what I want to do again, but that was in the back of my mind a little bit. ... But this decision is purely based on making sure I keep Sean involved."

Maddon's thought process could continue to evolve if Brignac continues to struggle. Also, if Rodriguez (.206, 1 HR, 8 RBIs) or Elliot Johnson (.237, 0, 1) were hitting enough to force their way into the lineup. Overall, Rays shortstops are hitting .198, 13th in the AL.

Maddon said that with the Rays in a stretch of 10 consecutive games against right-handers, he wanted to get Rodriguez a start.

UPTON DOWN?: CF B.J. Upton said he is set on serving his two-game suspension Thursday (the last game in Cleveland) and Friday (first game of the homestand), but Maddon said a final decision had not been made.

"Nothing's for sure yet, nothing's written in stone, nothing's etched," Maddon said. "As far as I know, thinking has been definitely, definitely done."

Upton would seem unlikely to have his suspension reduced by going through the appeal process, so more likely it's a matter of dropping his appeal and sitting out the two games.

DOUBLE-DIP: DH Johnny Damon was out of the lineup for the first time since April 20 as Maddon wanted to use Monday's off day to provide him a two-day break.

J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell faces the last substantial hurdle in his recovery from May 2010 shoulder surgery when he makes back-to-back appearances tonight and Thursday for Triple-A Durham. If all goes well, he will make one more Monday and rejoin the Rays on the next road trip. "He's very, very close," Maddon said.

FREED WILLY: Former Rays INF Willy Aybar has surfaced, signing with the Edmonton team in the independent North American League. Aybar played with the Rays in 2008-10 then seemed to drop off the baseball radar, with no reports of even interest from any major- or minor-league team.

CALMED DOWN: LHP David Price starts tonight, coming off the disappointment of being pulled one out from a complete game in his last start. Price was admittedly mad at the time but said he went in to see Maddon before leaving the clubhouse after that game.

"It took 30 seconds, there was no yelling, angry tones, voice, nothing," Price said. "We just talked. ... I wasn't going to leave the stadium mad."

Maddon called it "an absolute nonissue."

MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria is back on Twitter as @Evan3Longoria. ... 2B/RF Ben Zobrist went into play Tuesday with a 14-game hitting streak, two off his career high. ... RHP Brandon Gomes and OF Brandon Guyer won the team's April minor-league pitcher and player of the month honors.

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