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Rays notes: Jennings producing at top of lineup

Published:   |   Updated: April 21, 2013 at 12:09 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

It took awhile, but Desmond Jennings has learned the value of patience as the catalyst of the Rays lineup.

Tampa Bay’s dynamic center fielder entered Saturday’s game tied for fourth in the American League with 14 runs scored, a testament to his skills on the base paths and his newfound discipline at the plate.

“Dez is the key,” teammate Sean Rodriguez said. “Every great team has a really good leadoff hitter. I don’t care what anyone else in the lineup could be doing, if you don’t have a good leadoff man, those solo homers aren’t going to mean anything.”

Jennings has walked seven times in 16 games and manager Joe Maddon sees a young player growing into his role.

“Desmond has a chance to be a very classic leadoff hitter as he gains more experience,” Maddon said. “He’s a really good base stealer and the big thing with him is that when he doesn’t expand his strike zone and accepts his walks, that’s when he becomes very dangerous.”

The franchise record for runs in a season is held by Carl Crawford, who crossed home plate 110 times in 2010. Jennings is on pace to score 142 runs.

“My job is to get on base, period,” Jennings said. “I don’t care if it’s a hit or a walk, it counts. For me, it’s all about scoring runs.’’

Despite making solid contact consistently, Jennings is saddled with a .242 batting average.

“The start of the year has been real bad luck for him,” Rodriguez said. “He has hit a lot of balls on a line, right at guys. I hope it evens out for him.”

Turn it up In an effort to get his team loose, Maddon ordered up a new wrinkle in the Rays clubhouse before Saturday’s matchup against Oakland.

When players arrived, they saw a D.J. stationed outside of Maddon’s office cranking out hip-hop or classic rock by Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin at top volume.

Some players displayed their dance moves as they strolled by.

“I’ve been in a lot of places,” said 33-year-old DH Shelley Duncan, shaking his head, “but this is the first time I’ve seen a D.J. in a clubhouse. I’ve been with this club only a few months and there’s already been a lot of firsts around here.”

With Tampa Bay off to a 6-10 start, Maddon said he wanted to take some pressure off the last-place team in the AL East.

“We wanted to have our guys prep for tonight’s game in another way,” Maddon said. “I’m not a manager who is into an extra 100 swings before every game. I think that could be counterproductive. I want our guys to chill out a little bit, play hard and not worry about making mistakes, ever. This is my way of getting the point across.’’

Maddon hinted that he has another innovative pregame approach planned for this afternoon’s matchup against the A’s.

Finding his groove After a sluggish start, first baseman James Loney raised his average from .167 to .308 by registering seven hits in nine at-bats during a three-game stretch.

“He’s got a little bit of a different set-up and his confidence is up,” Maddon said. “This guy hits the ball far in batting practice … he’s got power. Right now, he’s on a nice hot streak, hitting a lot of line drives and using the whole field. He’s just got a really good look about him.”

Noteworthy Maddon said DH Luke Scott, recovering from a right calf strain, will run today and a determination will then be made on the next course of action. …Duncan described Friday’s players-only meeting as positive, with a message of staying focused. … Rays third baseman Evan Longoria met hundreds of youngsters Saturday morning from the Belmont Heights and Cross Bayou Little Leagues as part of a program that raised $80,000 for the two leagues.

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