tampabay.com

Rays boost Upton's work load hoping he hits back

The Devil Rays think part of B.J. Upton's offensive struggles are the result of concern over his defensive problems.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 11, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays think part of B.J. Upton's offensive struggles are the result of concern over his defensive problems.

So to lessen his worry, they plan to give him more to do.

In addition to Upton playing shortstop and third, the Rays will have him work at second and in the outfield this spring to explore the possibility of turning him into a super-utility-type such as the Angels' Chone Figgins.

And they hope he will establish himself as the impact offensive player he was supposed to be.

"I would like to take the pressure off his defense somewhat. Everything has been about his defense," manager Joe Maddon said. "During the last couple of years, it's been all about being the shortstop of the future, and then you throw him over to third base and it's about becoming the third baseman of the future.

"You know what? Let's come be a major-league baseball player, hit, and we'll figure out the best spot for you."

Upton hit .246 in 50 games last season but had only six extra-base hits five doubles, one homer, primarily because of what the Rays saw as mechanical flaws in his swing - using too much arms and not enough legs. They hope he will focus more on what he's doing at the plate if he's not thinking about what he's doing in the field.

"I want him to come here and relax and enjoy coming to the ballpark without any consternation about making an error," Maddon said.

AKI MANIA: A half-dozen Japanese papers and a TV crew plan to cover the Rays on a regular basis because of Akinori Iwamura and an NHK network crew will follow him until at least May, making daily reports and a one- or two-hour special. ... A Japanese travel agent has told the Rays he is bringing a group in April from Iwamura's hometown. ... While Iwamura said Uwajima is known for tangerines and yellowtails, its "principal claim of fame" - and this is straight from the Rays media guide - is the Taga-jinja Shrine, a "giant phallus carved out of log." The 12-foot carving is part of an ancient fertility shrine and adjacent to a sex museum.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: While the Yankees have Yogi Berra in spring training, the Rays will do yoga, having scheduled thrice-weekly morning classes. ... Centerfielder Rocco Baldelli's January trip to Switzerland was interrupted when he had to be treated by EMTs for what he thought was food poisoning and they said was altitude sickness. "We'd been to the top of the Matterhorn that day," he said. ... Incumbent closer Seth McClung, sporting long red hair, bulked up with weights, figuring the additional upper-body strength will "be key in developing a more consistent arm slot." ... ESPN.com ranks the outfield trio of Carl Crawford-Baldelli-Delmon Young eighth best in the game. ... In explaining that he signed an extension in Cincinnati because he liked the direction the team is headed, Hernando High's Bronson Arroyo said: "The first three-year deal I signed with Boston, I probably wouldn't have signed with Tampa Bay. You're not going to sign with a place you don't enjoy being in." ... The new videoboard at the Trop is more than 50 percent larger than the old one.... Individual game tickets are sold out for March 2 (Yankees) and March 24 (Red Sox). ... Vinny Castilla's retirement announcement last week was news to some Rays fans who thought he had quit in 2001. ... The Countdown to Opening Day radio show on 620-AM broadcasts at 7 p.m. Monday from Boston's in Tampa.

CARL FOR HIRE: Tampa's Carl Everett remains surprisingly unsigned, despite 23 homers in 2005 (White Sox) and 11 in part-time duty (Mariners) in 2006. Everett, 35, recently donated $25,000 to Little League's Urban Initiative Program, which will send a Tampa team to a tournament in Williamsport, Pa.

MISCELLANY: Baseball America projects Hillsborough High outfielder Michael Burgess as the No. 8 pick in the June draft, by Colorado. ... On HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel Monday, Phillies slugger Ryan Howard admits his mother handles his money and gives him an allowance. ... Condolences to Boca Ciega product Hal Lanier, whose father, former Cardinals All-Star pitcher Max, died recently in Dunnellon at age 91.

Marc Topkin can be reached at (727) 893-8801 or topkin@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

 

Positions wanted

With spring training camps opening this week, you could put together a decent team of players who are still unsigned:

1B Eduardo Perez

2B Ronnie Belliard

SS Luis Ordaz

3B David Bell

OF Steve Finley

OF Bernie Williams

RF Jeromy Burnitz

C Sandy Alomar

DH Carl Everett

PH Phil Nevin

SP Steve Trachsel

SP Mark Redman

RP Kent Mercker

RP Dustin Hermanson