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Upton's throwing woes return and get plenty of company
The team-record six errors the Devil Rays made in Sunday's 7-4 loss to Toronto were concerning enough that there will be extra fielding practice this morning.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 5, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - The team-record six errors the Devil Rays made in Sunday's 7-4 loss to Toronto were concerning enough that there will be extra fielding practice this morning. But most glaring was two were on throws from third by B.J. Upton, who had been looking as if he was putting his defensive woes behind him.
Upton and manager Joe Maddon said the errant throws resulted from simple mechanical mistakes that can be corrected.
"It's just a matter of moving my feet," Upton said. "That's basically what I did wrong."
It also may have had to do with where he was standing. The Rays are moving him around as a utility man, and Sunday's game was the first time he has been at third.
"The footwork is maybe a little different over there," Upton said. "I've been in the middle infield all spring and had not gotten over to the corner."
Overall, Maddon said the six errors were the result more of mechanical and physical mistakes than a lack of concentration. SS Ben Zobrist and 1B Carlos Pena missed ground balls, SS Jorge Velandia made a bad throw and RF Elijah Dukes dropped a fly ball. There were other mistakes, too, as CF Rocco Baldelli misplayed a fly and Dukes made an errant throw.
"Our guys have been working great and it just broke down on us," Maddon said. "We'll address the different things, we'll talk about it, we'll physically work at it, and we'll just make those problems go away."
Another issue could be the Progress Energy Park infield, which was criticized by the Yankees last week and received extensive work Sunday from Dan Moeller's grounds crew.
BIG PITCH: RHP Jeff Niemann, the 2004 top draft pick who was injured last spring, had been looking forward to getting on the mound in a major-league exhibition and did well in a 15-pitch seventh, despite two errors behind him. Particularly impressive were two pitches to minor-league OF Aaron Mathews, a 1- and-1 big-breaking curveball for a strike, then an overpowering high fastball for the strikeout.
"I just tried to gas it up a little bit. I know it felt good coming out of my hand," Niemann said. "It felt good to show what I can do."
HISTORY LESSON: The Rays did manage to do a few things the right way, such as Baldelli sliding hard into second to take out SS John McDonald and break up a double play. "I'd like to think that's the way I usually do that, that it wasn't so much I was trying to prove a point," Baldelli said. "Some of the older guys like (Greg) Norton have been talking about playing the game hard, like they used to do back in the day."
PITCHING IN: With Sunday starter Jae Kuk Ryu and at least four others competing for the fifth starter's job, Maddon said they "might have to make some quick calls" to cut the field so there are enough innings for the finalists. ... RHP Chad Orvella earned Maddon's praise for "being aggressive in the strike zone" in a 1-2-3 fourth.
MISCELLANY: As a big fan of Jake Plummer, Maddon is still hoping the retiring QB joins the Bucs: "I'd love to see him reconsider." ... The Countdown to Opening Day radio show broadcasts from Splitsville at Channelside in Tampa from 7-8 tonight on 620-AM, with OF Jonny Gomes joining hosts Andy Freed and Dave Wills and principal owner Stuart Sternberg calling in.