Upton's pal preaches patience

Published September 8, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - B.J. Upton has not had the kind of flashy start in the five weeks since being called up that some expected of him, hitting .233 with only two extra-base hits and playing inconsistent defense at third base, making some spectacular plays while botching some routine ones.

That may be because expectations were too high.

Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who grew up with Upton in Virginia, coached him on an AAU team and remains a close friend, insists Upton will be an impact player.

"I've got no doubt at all," Cuddyer said. "He's a phenomenal athlete. He understands the game. He knows the game. He's going to be fine up here. Once he gets comfortable, once he gets a full season under his belt, he'll be a star."

Cuddyer pointed out that Upton just turned 22 and is in only his fourth pro season, and that he is trying to learn a new position at the game's highest level, making 11 errors in 29 games.

"He's going to be fine at third base," Cuddyer said. "He's still young. He still has to go through those growing pains in the field. Most people do it at Double A; he's doing it in the big leagues. You've got understand that. And you've got to understand he just turned 22. You can't expect him to go out there and be (Cardinals star) Scott Rolen or someone like that right from the get-go. Once he clicks, he'll take off."

The Rays moved Upton to third because of the high number of errors he made at shortstop. Some of the throwing mistakes he has made at third are similar, the result of fundamentally incorrect footwork, manager Joe Maddon said, a common problem infield coach Tom Foley is working to correct.

"Getting his bottom half right is going to make him throw better on a more consistent basis," Maddon said. "The throwing part of it that is wrong, it's not his arm as much as it is his feet, so we're working on correcting that."

AUGUST PERFORMANCE: It's really no surprise the A's are playing well in the second half of the season, rolling into Tropicana Field tonight with a major-league-best 35-16 record. They seem to do it that way every year. Since 1999, the A's are 363-207 after the All-Star break, a major-league-best .637 winning percentage over that span that is a primary reason they have finished first or second each season and have been to the playoffs four times.

Maddon saw it up close as a coach with the Angels, who battled the A's much of that time, but he can't explain it.

"I don't know why they get good in the second half," he said. "I don't have that answer. They just do. They just have. The thing we were fortunate about with the Angels was that we were always able to keep pace with them, and then you have to beat them even up."

Though much was made in the book Moneyball of the A's methods of scouting and evaluating hitters, Maddon said pitching has been their key.

"There's a group that always talks about the Moneyball-offense side of things, but they've really been about pitching - as far as I'm concerned - for years," Maddon said. "So the Moneyball concept of scouting pitchers is what you really want to look at."

HISTORY LESSON: The Rays are hosting a Negro Leagues celebration Saturday that includes appearances by Hall of Famer Monte Irvin and former players such as Tampa natives Clifford Brown and Walter Gibbons, Art Hamilton (who caught Satchel Paige), Harold Hair, Billy Felder, Raydell Maddix, Bob Mitchell and Leon Harris. Sean Gibson, son of Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, will also attend. The players will sign autographs from 5:45 to 6:15 and be honored before the game.

MINOR MATTERS: Double-A Montgomery opened its best-of-five Southern League playoff series with a 4-3 win at Jacksonville (Dodgers). Jeff Niemann, the 2004 first-round draft pick, earned the win, allowing three runs, two earned, in 62/3 innings. ... Class A Visalia lost its California League best-of-three playoff opener to Stockton (A's) 8-1 late Wednesday, with Stockton scoring five in the first five innings off ace James Houser, who hadn't lost since May 12. The Oaks played Game 2 late Thursday, needing a win to stay alive.

MISCELLANY: The Rays are not expected to have any interest in signing Dmitri Young, Delmon's older brother, who was released by Detroit. ... The Rays Wives will be collecting baby goods (with diapers and wipes needed most) at Gates 1, 4 and 5 on Saturday to benefit the Spring, which provides shelter to abused families. ... Ten of the Rays' past 11 games have been decided by three runs or fewer; they are 4-6. ... Casey Fossum was scheduled to have fraying in his labrum and rotator cuff repaired this morning by Dr. Koco Eaton and expects to be ready for spring training.