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E. JOHNSON TO GET BIGGER SHARE OF SS JOB

The specifics of the time sharing remain to be worked out, but Elliot Johnson is going to be playing more at shortstop and struggling Reid Brignac less.

Manager Joe Maddon said there wouldn't be a straight platoon (Brignac swings lefty, Johnson is a switch-hitter) nor a set pattern.

"I don't want to be committed to that. You're going to see more of Elliot. Let's put it that way," Maddon said. "I think he's done a nice job."

Brignac has struggled since inheriting the starting job following the trade of Jason Bartlett, hitting .179 with one extra-base hit and a .212 on-base percentage. Johnson, after going 1-for-3 Tuesday with his second homer, is batting .260 overall, including .353 over his past five starts.

"I wanted to just give them both an opportunity a little bit," Maddon said. "You're going to see them both bounce back and forth a little bit right now."

Johnson, 27, said he welcomes the chance to play more. "If I get the opportunity to do that, great," he said. "And hopefully I can just continue to help this team win."

TOUGH ROAD: The Rays left after the game on a grueling road trip to Toronto, South Florida and Detroit that includes two 4 a.m. arrivals (this morning and Friday) and two afternoon games in the Miami heat, and the illogical scheduling of flying through basically the same airspace four times in logging 4,464 miles.

"We've just got to watch our guys," Maddon said. "We've got to make sure somebody gets some rest here or there and really be cognizant of that. You've got to. You could run somebody in the ground right now at the end of May easily if you don't pay attention to it. By the time we get (to Miami), I'm probably going to be the most concerned with how our guys are doing."

C Kelly Shoppach said that between the travel and the heat, it also will be important to stay hydrated.

Maddon and several players wondered why MLB officials didn't check the schedule for such hardships. "I'm sure they did," Shoppach said. "But I don't think they care."

Then again, the Rays could have made it easier on themselves by playing Tuesday's game in the afternoon, though that would have affected attendance and TV ratings.

ENCORE PERFORMANCE: The Rays would love for RHP Jeremy Hellickson to go out tonight and stage a repeat performance of his last start, a complete-game shutout of the Orioles. But what he won't get to do is throw anywhere near the career-high 120 pitches he racked up Friday.

The 24-year-old rookie likely will be limited to 100-105 pitches, though Maddon said he doesn't want to make it a hard rule. "I don't want to put any real restraints on him," Maddon said. "It's his time to become a major-league pitcher and I want him to go out there and pitch. I don't want him to be thinking about things like that. I've just got to watch it."

Hellickson flew ahead to Toronto on Tuesday afternoon to get a full night's rest.

J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell appears set to rejoin the Rays on Friday. He made his final scheduled rehab appearance on Tuesday for Class A Charlotte, throwing 27 pitches over 11/3 innings and allowing a run on two hits. "As of right now, he's all set to go,'' Maddon said.

MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria was 0-for-4, dropping him to .111 (with no extra-base hits) over his past four games. ... DH Johnny Damon had his third three-hit game. ... Maddon said RHP Andy Sonnanstine will definitely make a third start on Friday at the Marlins, as the Rays want to give him another chance to show improvement on the mound and want to take advantage of his hitting ability (a .318 career average) while playing under NL rules. ... The Rays presented grants to 15 nonprofit organizations in a pregame ceremony.

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UP NEXT

at Blue Jays

Tonight-Thursday

What's new: The Jays have been on a roll, winning six straight games. Since last facing the Rays on May 5, the Jays have activated 2B Aaron Hill and INF Jayson Nix from the DL but lost 1B/DH Adam Lind (lower back) and called up OF Eric Thames. A bigger deal is that OF Jose Bautista, who missed the last Rays series with a stiff neck, is back and as hot as ever, leading the AL in hitting (.370), homers (16), runs (35), total bases (101), OBP (.516) and OPS (1.365). Also, the bullpen has been better.

Key stat: The Jays are a major-league best 11-2 in the first game of series.

Connections: Jays RHP Jesse Litsch is a Dixie Hollins High grad and former Rays batboy, RHP Shawn Camp and Bautista are former Rays players, 3B coach Brian Butterfield a former Eckerd College assistant.

Series history: Rays lead 114-113; Jays lead 66-49 at the Rogers Centre.

Marc Topkin, Times staff writer

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