Monday, May 4, 2009

A pair of no-hitters for the Rays

The No. 9 and No. 1 hitters are vital in Joe Maddon's lineup, because he likes speed at 9 so when it turns over, it's as if the Rays have two leadoff hitters.

When it works, the Rays offense is a scoring machine.

When it doesn't, they are iffy.

Right now, the Rays are operating without a leadoff if you consider center fielder B.J. Upton's current funk.

To call it a slump would be an insult to slumps.

Upton was 0-for-5 in the Rays 8-4 loss to the visiting Orioles on Monday, which extended the funk to 5-for-50 and dropped his batting average to .152.

Now Upton is basically going through spring training since he missed all the real thing. Those at-bats he would have had during March against Triple A pitchers in places like Lakeland and Dunedin he had during the month of April at the big league-level.

And keep in mind he did have offseason surgery.

So, safe to say, Upton is a little behind. His on-base percentage was above .300 until this current homestand, which meant Upton might not have been hitting his way on base, but at least he was still getting on.

Now he's not even doing that.

That's a big out at the top of the order.

As for the bottom, that spot is currently occupied by catcher Dioner Navarro, who is in a 5-for-45 slump.

That's two virtually automatic outs that Maddon was counting on to be productive spots.

Normally, Maddon flips the right-handed hitting Jason Bartlett and the left-handed Akinori Iwamura at the bottom of the order depending on the starting pitcher. But with Navarro batting .160, well, let's just say you can bat him 10th.

Maddon is reluctant to take Upton out of the leadoff spot, because that would show a lack of confidence in Upton.

That could change, especially with Bartlett swinging such a hot bat - .363 after Monday's 1-for-4, two RBI night.

As for Navie, Maddon said backup Michel Hernandez won't start full time unless there is an injury.

Shawn Riggans starts his rehab assignment at Double A Montgomery on Tuesday, so maybe Riggans can hustle back and provide some help.

But Riggans isn't known for his bat, and he is often injured.

Navarro has to get it going. The Rays have no other choices.

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