Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Now leading off ... not Upton

Some managers move players up and down the lineup. Some managers like a set lineup.

Some managers are quick to drop a slumping hitter down a few spots. Some managers stick with a set lineup.

Rays manager Joe Maddon likes a set lineup. Aside from tweaking the bottom of the order based on platoons and keeping to the right-lefty-righty look, Maddon wants to send the same guys out there in the same spots.

He does this for two reasons: He's spent a great deal of time in the offseason figuring out the batting order and he doesn't want to show a lack of faith in his players.

Maddon said the best thing a manager can do for a slumping hitter is to maintain his confidence in that hitter, and that's why he stayed with B.J. Upton in the leadoff spot for so long. Maddon was hoping Upton would find the stroke that led to a productive June.

But Upton strikes out too much and walks too little. In between, he doesn't get nearly enough hits.

So Maddon decided on a change. It was a long time coming, because Maddon spent a long time mulling the move. Changing leadoff hitters to Maddon is the same as changing quarterbacks in football. It can't be a knee-jerk reaction, and the guy you stick in there better be able to do the job. If not, the only option often is to go back to the former No. 1, and we know how that worked out.

So Maddon moved Jason Bartlett, the team's leading hitter to the top of the order Monday and kept him there Tuesday. Maddon said he does not have a time frame on how long Bartlett will be the Rays leadoff hitter. Bartlett will likely tell Maddon he can or can't handle the job.

It's the right move for the Rays right now, because the offense is struggling. Upton gives them no spark at the top of the order.

Bartlett has a higher batting average and on-base percentage. He walks more and strikes out less. He's also a much better base runner than Upton.

Not sure if Bartlett can provide the spark that will carry the Rays to the postseason. But giving Bartlett one more at-bat than Upton on a nightly basis can't hurt.

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