Rays manager Joe Maddon, in an effort to rest his team for the stretch run and perhaps improve their generally woeful offensive performance at Tropicana Field, unveiled a new pregame routine before Tampa Bay faced the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night.
For this homestand only, the Rays will not take batting practice on the field (but they can hit in the clubhouse cage). On select days, including Saturday, the Rays will take a full infield session. Maddon said he wants his players at the ballpark by mid-afternoon, not earlier.
"We have not hit well at home, so let's try something different," Maddon said. "On the road, you get to the ballpark later, you normally don't hit as much.
"It's such a misconception, the first one to the ballpark (gets an advantage). That's the one who drinks the most coffee, eats the most snacks, watches the most TV. I want them to have a life, take their wives or girlfriends out to lunch, mess with the kids, come here at a more decent hour."
Maddon said he thinks players are generally fine with limited batting practice. While with the Angels, Maddon said his teams worked hard on hitting during the summer, then the bats died in September.
"This is my attempt to keep the guys fresher," Maddon said. "I want them fresh and ready to go at 7:10, not 3:10. Hanging out at the ballpark (early), maybe some folks kind of like that. I think it's counterproductive. It's eyewash. It's not necessary."
Shields feels good
The Rays expect another proficient start today with RHP James Shields (11-10, 2.83 ERA), who is pitching on five days' rest for the first time since the All-Star break.
Shields leads the majors with nine complete games. He has allowed only two runs in his last 24 innings pitched at Tropicana Field (holding batters to a .183 average in that span). He has a 2.19 ERA in day games (although the Rays have lost five of his last six day starts).
"I'm excited to pitch any time," Shields said. "We've got to keep winning games. All five starters have been fairly consistent all season long. These are the expectations we have for ourselves, and this is what we're capable of doing. We've got to keep it going."
Maddon reiterated that he thought Friday night's fifth-inning single by CF B.J. Upton, a hard-hit ball that went under the glove of Mariners 3B Adam Kennedy, should have been scored an error. Had that been the case, Mariners RHP Felix Hernandez would've taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
"That would've been controversial (if Upton would've finished with Tampa Bay's only hit)," said Maddon, who floated the idea of a professionally selected panel to review scoring decisions. "It could've happened. It was awkward."
Maddon said he respects Tampa Bay's official scorekeeper, Bill Mathews.
"I'm not in it for controversy, I'm in it to get it right," said Mathews, the baseball coach at Eckerd College. "I'm human. I'm not saying I'm going to get it right all the time. But somebody has to make a decision. That's the nature of the job."
Mathews said he made an almost immediate decision in ruling Upton's hit on Friday.
Later in that game, Mathews gave an error to Kennedy on a difficult chance. Mathews changed his mind after reviewing the play when he arrived at Tropicana Field on Saturday afternoon. He took away the error and gave a hit to Rays 1B Casey Kotchman.
Odds and ends
Rays OF Sam Fuld, who chipped the crown in his front tooth on Friday before getting a pinch single to lead an eighth-inning rally, said he considered going toothless in a nod to superstition. Alas, after his wife interceded, Fuld got a temporary crown on Saturday. … Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson and OF Desmond Jennings will sign autographs Monday from 11 a.m. to noon at Blue Cross Blue Shield's Florida Blue Center, 201 N. West Shore Blvd., in Tampa. … Tuesday, Rays 3B Evan Longoria will be at Sweetbay Supermarket, 3400 East Lake Road, in Palm Harbor, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. as part of Pepsi's Field of Dreams campaign. The first 50 fans in line will be part of a meet-and-greet with Longoria. The next 20 people in line will receive a Longoria signed baseball. Fifty fans will receive two tickets to a Rays home game.