tampabay.com

Upton rediscovers MIA power stroke

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published September 24, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - B.J. Upton hasn't had the season, in terms of power numbers, that many expected from him. Still, the Devil Rays third baseman showed a glimpse of what manager Joe Maddon believes the future holds with his first homer of the season Saturday night.

Upton entered with just three extra-base hits since his callup from Triple-A Durham on Aug. 1, but he connected for a two-run shot in the sixth to straightaway center off Yankees starter Randy Johnson that traveled an estimated 410 feet and sealed the Rays' 8-0 victory.

"As soon as he hit it I said it was gone," Maddon said. "What you saw tonight is what we know is going to happen down the road."

Maddon said Upton has been working with hitting coach Steve Henderson to use the bottom half of his body in his swing to complement his powerful upper body.

"I've been working hard to get my swing back," Upton said. "It's slowly coming and I'm going to keep working."

It was Upton's first homer in a big-league uniform since Sept. 17, 2004.

Upton hit just eight homers in 398 at-bats this season at Durham, but he hit 18 last season with the Bulls and four in 159 at-bats in his first stint with the Rays in 2004.

"Even with the popup (to first), those were 'A' hacks," Maddon said of Upton's at-bat after the home run. "That's what we've got to get. We've got to get him those 'A' hacks on a consistent basis. He's a wiry strong guy who's going to get bigger. The power's going to show up. He's going to have a lot of it."

SHIELDS SHUT DOWN: As expected, the team shut down rookie pitcher James Shields for the season after his start Friday night.

Maddon made the announcement before the game, citing the 24-year-old right-hander's innings total. Shields pitched 186 combined with Tampa Bay and Durham.

Maddon said Shields' rookie season earned him a spot in next year's starting rotation.

"He's demonstrated that he can be a major-league starter," Maddon said. "He's done a nice job. The thing I like is that he's understanding and he knew he had a lot to learn. He still has a lot to learn. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he looks like next year with all the experience he's had this year."

Shields went 6-8 with a 4.84 ERA in 21 starts with the Rays.

WAIT AND SEE: Maddon confirmed the Rays are considering precautionary offseason surgery for Upton on his left shoulder. Upton missed three games with a strained shoulder he suffered while swinging through a pitch Aug. 17. Upton said he had similar problems in the minors that caused him to miss playing time.

"It's not something that's critical," Maddon said. "At the end of the season, we'll evaluate it and make that call."

HARPER ALSO DONE: The Rays have also ended reliever Travis Harper's season. Harper hadn't pitched since Aug. 1 because of a right shoulder impingement.

Harper, who was used mostly in long relief, ended with a 4.93 ERA in 42 innings over 30 appearances, his fewest appearances since he pitched in 37 games in his 2002 rookie season.

MISCELLANY: Saturday's crowd of 33,492 was the third-largest home crowd of the season. ... Carl Crawford extended his AL lead with his 56th stolen base. He is still two behind Jose Reyes' major-league lead. ... The Rays posted their sixth shutout of the year, their most since 2003 (seven). ... The Yankees have been shut out three times against AL clubs: Baltimore, Kansas City and Tampa Bay - the teams with the highest three ERAs in the league. ... Tomas Perez started for Jorge Cantu (fever) at second base for the second straight day. Cantu is expected back in the lineup today. ... Maddon announced his starters for the season's final series in Cleveland. Left-hander J.P. Howell is starting Thursday, Brian Stokes Friday, Jae Seo Saturday and Jason Hammel on Sunday. ... Today is autograph day at Tropicana Field. Rays players will sign before the game from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. ... The team officially shut down reliever Chad Orvella (intercostal strain) for the season.