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Rays

Upton major part of Rays' recent surge

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:55 PM

B.J. Upton tried to bunt Desmond Jennings to second base in the first inning of the Tampa Bay Rays game on Saturday against the Minnesota Twins. He didn't, but slammed the next pitch for a two-run homer, so, it was a very good at-bat.

Later in the game Upton tried to get a run home from third with a fly ball to right field. He didn't hit the ball deep enough, but it was a good idea.

"His intent has been really good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said before Sunday's game against the Twins at Target Field.

Upton was hitless in Sunday's win but drew a pair of walks, the second coming on a full-count in the 10th inning and helped move along what proved to be the winning rally.

"I'm just trying to make something happen," Upton said.

That's an approach the Rays have wanted to see from the streaky center fielder for some time. That it is showing up now is one of the reasons the Rays were tied with Baltimore atop the American League wild card standings and had a seven-game winning streak after Monday's 4-1 victory at Seattle.

On Monday night, Upton's two-run home run against Seattle's Blake Beavan triggered a four-run third inning. He was penciled in at designated hitter, with Sam Fuld getting the start in center.

"He's just playing the game as well as I've seen him play the game," Maddon said. "I'm talking everything – the right time to run on the bases, throwing to the right bases in the outfield, at-bat utilizing the whole field, moving runners, hitting the ball out of the ballpark."

On Sunday, Upton saw his eight-game hitting streak end, but he scored for the sixth time in six games. He had seven extra-base hits – four doubles and three home runs – and eight RBI during his hitting streak. He had seven extra-base hits in his 37 games prior to the streak.

"It's as good as I've seen him play baseball, and I'm talking even the playoffs (in 2008) when he was really hot," Maddon said. "This is as good as I've seen him play baseball. He's a really good baseball player right now."

The return of Evan Longoria from the disabled list has done wonders for the Rays' offense – 37 runs, 65 hits and a .314 team batting average in the first six games as opposed to 25 runs and a .199 team batting average in the 10 games prior to Longoria's return.

Also, the Rays were 12-1 this season, prior to Monday, with Longoria, Upton and Jennings in lineup.

Longoria didn't play Monday night, so there is more to Upton's recent surge than the All-Star's presence in the lineup.

That the non-waiver trade deadline came and went with Upton remaining with the team has helped ease his mind. Becoming a free agent after this season may also provide a boost to Upton's game.

Maddon sees another reason.

"It's just a matter of time. Young males, man, we take some time to mature," Maddon said. "I'm still waiting for my moment. As a baseball player, he's just understanding more, that's it. It's one of the moments, an 'ah-ha' moment, where you understand, and that's happening for him right now."

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