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Maddon: It's all in heads

Maddon points to mental part of the game

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published July 1, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - With his team struggling through its worst offensive cold spell of the season, Rays manager Joe Maddon said the difficulties at the plate are mostly mental.

In the past five games entering Saturday night, the Rays were hitting .205 (33-for-161) and had just 10 runs.

"I want them to try easier more than anything, " Maddon said. "You can't try any harder than we do. We've seen some good pitching, but we've had plenty of opportunities, and we're better than that, but it happens to every team during the course of the year. The more you grind it out, the worse it gets."

Maddon said he told his players to concentrate more on hitting the ball up the middle, keeping the ball out of the air and not expanding the strike zone, all things the Rays have struggled with during their slump.

"Try to hit singles back to the middle of the field, " he said. "Forget about home runs. Try to get back into the strike zone. Sometimes when that happens, you're chasing pitches out of the zone. You think something's wrong with your swing, but nothing's wrong with your swing. You're swinging at bad pitches."

SHIELDS STEADY: RHP James Shields could be named to the AL All-Star team today before he takes the mound against Cleveland, but his mind will be more on breaking his personal three-game losing streak. In those games, he has an ERA of 8.00 after starting the season 6-0 with a 3.04. In his start Tuesday, he allowed a four-run fifth inning that started with an errant throw that scored one run and was followed by back-to-back homers.

"When that type of situation comes up again, I know what to do, " Shields said. "I thought last game was one of the best games I pitched all year except for four pitches. When it comes down to four pitches, you have to really bear down on those four pitches. I've had those types of situations many times, and I've gotten out of them. I just have to go back to what I'm doing at the beginning of the season."

LEFTIES SITTING: With Indians ace LHP C.C. Sabathia on the mound Saturday, Maddon sat LF Carl Crawford and 1B Carlos Pena, left-handed hitters who have been struggling at the plate. Crawford has just one hit in his past 21 at-bats, and Pena is 2 for his past 17.

Maddon said both would return to the starting lineup today against LHP Cliff Lee.

UPTON UPDATE: After sitting out his second scheduled rehab game with "fatigue, " 2B/CF B.J. Upton returned to the lineup Saturday for Class A Vero Beach at Legends Field against the Tampa Yankees, playing second base and hitting third.

Upton went 0-for-2 with a strikeout. He didn't return after a rain delay in the middle of the fifth inning.

The missed day set back Upton's return timetable, Maddon said, and it was "probably less likely" that Upton would rejoin the team in Boston on Tuesday, but he didn't think it was impossible. Upton will report to Triple-A Durham today and play seven innings there tonight.

"It shouldn't be too long, " Maddon said. "He came out of (Saturday) pretty well."

MISCELLANY: Rays utility INF Josh Wilson said he expected 20 to 30 friends and family members to make the 21/2-hour drive from his hometown of Pittsburgh to watch him play second base and bat seventh, the highest he has hit this season. ... With Crawford off, RF Delmon Young batted third for the first time Saturday. It's the first time this season Young has batted higher than fifth. ... Rays first-round draft pick David Price won the Golden Spikes award as college baseball's top player Friday. ... Maddon said he has given 3B Akinori Iwamura clearance to leave the team for the birth of his baby, due Wednesday.