tampabay.com

Upton emerges as steady RBI force

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 29, 2007


OAKLAND, Calif. -- If anyone is surprised to see B.J. Upton leading the Devil Rays in RBIs after 24 games, that's okay.

Because he is, too.

"Just a little bit, " Upton said.

While a lack of consistency has been the team's major problem, Upton has been one of the Rays' most productive hitters through the first month.

After going 3-for-4 Saturday, with his fourth homer, he has a .357 average, a .657 slugging percentage and a .408 on-base percentage that rank among the league leaders, a team-high 17 RBIs and a stunning .522 average 12-for-23 with runners in scoring position.

"I'm still finding out, we all are, about him, " manager Joe Maddon said. "But he may have the RBI mentality, which would be a nice thing."

ROCCO RESTING: The swelling in Rocco Baldelli's bruised right knee has gone down some, but it is starting to sound as if he won't play until Tuesday.

Maddon said he will wait until this morning to decide whether to use him as the DH and would allow Baldelli to try to convince him he is ready, but "with the day off (Monday), if we could get him through the whole weekend and not have to use him. ... "

CAMP TIME: After a brutal start, RH reliever Shawn Camp, with six consecutive scoreless appearances, has worked his way back to being trusted with crucial late-inning situations when the Rays are tied or ahead, sharing the role with rookie RH Brian Stokes. Camp's ability to get ground ball outs is what makes him valuable in a role RHPs Juan Salas, Ruddy Lugo and Jae Kuk Ryu have struggled in.

"It's Camp/Stokes or Stokes/Camp in the seventh and eighth innings in my mind's eye right now, " Maddon said. "Camper is kind of the wild card right now because of what he can do as the inning progresses. ...

"Right now, Camper seems to have re-achieved what he looked like last year. Stokes I still have a lot of faith in. For the most part, the other guys have shown us flashes, but there's not that knowing-what-to-expect-on-a-nightly-basis from them, so that's still a work in progress. They're still going to get their opportunities, I still want to see them, but to give them that 'even or ahead' status, it's still hard to do that."

NUMBERS GAME: Ty Wigginton hasn't gotten a hit since the Rays left the Trop. He is 0-for-12 on this trip and hitless in his past 25 at-bats away from home. ... The Rays have allowed 12 runs three times already and a major-league-most 159 (6.6 per game) overall. ... They have made an AL-high 22 errors.

MISCELLANY: LF Carl Crawford worked out this offseason in Arizona with No. 1 NFL draft pick JaMarcus Russell and was impressed with the quarterback: "He can throw, that's for sure." ... There was a sign in rightfield for the Carlos Pena Fan Club. ... Struggling RHP Jae Seo said he felt "much more better" after an extended pregame bullpen session with pitching coach Jim Hickey. ... RHP Jeff Niemann earned his first career Triple-A win for Durham on Friday. ... Montgomery LHP James Houser, of Sarasota, is on the DL after having his wisdom teeth removed; RHP Evan Meek, who was sidelined by a concussion after being hit by a foul ball, was activated.

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