tampabay.com

Difference in Upton is audible

It's easy to see how incredibly well 2B B.J. Upton has done the first month.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 1, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - It's easy to see how incredibly well 2B B.J. Upton has done the first month.

Just look at the balls he has blasted to all fields and at his name all over the American League statistical leaderboard, ranking among the top three in batting average .365, slugging percentage (.689) and hitting with runners in scoring position (.542) through Sunday.

But manager Joe Maddon doesn't have to look to know.

He can tell just by listening.

"The balls he's hitting, he's hitting right on the numbers, and you can hear it from the side, " Maddon said. "He's just swinging the bat with a lot more force than he did at any point last year. He's a thin, wiry young man, but he has serious power. The biggest differences are bottom-half involvement (using his legs more), better hand position, and the ball is just clicking off his bat. You sit down and listen to him in BP and the sound off the bat is just different."

There's something else different, too, which could go down as one of the best decisions ever by Maddon and executive VP Andrew Friedman. By moving Upton to second base (and off shortstop and third, where he struggled), they took the focus off his defense, allowing him to relax.

"We wanted for him to show us what his best position would be and not try to force him into a spot and try to force him into being this icon that he was, " Maddon said. "The biggest thing was that I wanted him to become the offensive threat he once had been and then find out what his best defensive position was. So far it's kind of taken shape. We'll see how it all plays out."

There are some concerns, that Upton strikes out too much (27 times, tied for third most in the AL) and takes too many pitches, but the Rays like what they see. And hear.

NEW LOOK: RHP Edwin Jackson said the Twins will see a different pitcher tonight than April 14, when he walked five, allowed nine of 18 batters to reach, labored through three-plus innings and announced afterward: "I just pitched like a (wimp)."

Jackson said the game reinforced that he has to be aggressive at all times, and he has pitched better since, though he is still seeking his first win as a Ray. "You attack the strike zone and sometimes you get away with pitches you miss on, " he said.

ROLLING ROOKIES: Elijah Dukes, Akinori Iwamura and Delmon Young combined to score 43 April runs, more than any rookie trio in the past 50 years, according to research by the Rays. Minnesota's Gary Gaetti (now the Rays' Triple-A hitting coach), Kent Hrbek and Randy Johnson scored 40 in 1982.

MISCELLANY: INF Ty Wigginton, who came up with the Mets and played there through July 2004, said he didn't have any recollection of Kirk Radomski, the former clubhouse employee who pleaded guilty to distributing steroids. ... 1B/DH Greg Norton, recovering from knee surgery, is close to going on a rehab assignment and could be back within 10 days. ... Wigginton, Norton, Carlos Pena and Bugs Bunny will open the new Rays/Looney Tunes play area at International Plaza at 11 a.m. Thursday. ... SS Ben Zobrist will participate in Bay Point Middle's Math Moves U Extravaganza on Wednesday. ... The 11-14 April record matches last season. Their best was 12-12 in 1999.