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Rays

Upton Moves To Leadoff Role

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: May 23, 2013 at 07:48 AM
PITTSBURGH -

PITTSBURGH - Leadoff hitters traditionally are expected to take some pitches and get on base. The Rays don't have anyone better at those endeavors than B.J. Upton, so it made sense for the center fielder to get the call with the team in temporary need of a leadoff man.

Manager Joe Maddon approached Upton on Friday night about filling in atop the lineup while Akinori Iwamura serves his three-game suspension and "it was a pretty quick answer for me," the player said.

"I've always kind of liked the leadoff spot," said Upton, who had started there nine times in the big leagues before Friday.

His usual approach certainly didn't require any adjustments to fill the role. Upton entered the game with a .401 on-base percentage, 56 walks (second in the AL) and 22 stolen bases (third in the AL).

"I thought out of all the choices to be made, B.J. was the most appropriate," Maddon said. "He kind of is a leadoff hitter at heart and it's a spot that I'm sure he can play on a regular basis, but he's got all these other abilities, too."

While acknowledging his usual patient approach, Upton joked before the game that he would "be Hanley Ramirez" and swing from his heels on the first pitch of the game. And that's exactly what he did, singling sharply to center.

Upton's move up wasn't the only change. Needing a bat in Upton's usual No. 3 slot, Maddon elevated the red-hot Evan Longoria even though he didn't want to mess with the success the rookie has had lately.

SPECIAL GUEST: Maddon has made a habit of bringing in motivational speakers to address his team, from boxing trainer Angelo Dundee to Bucs legend Lee Roy Selmon.

He took a slightly different approach Saturday, inviting Freedom, Pa., resident John Challis to visit the Rays' clubhouse before the game. Challis, 18, has gained national attention for his battle with lung and liver cancer. A huge sports fan, he got an at-bat for his high school team in April and lined a clean single to the opposite field.

Challis visited PNC Park on Wednesday for a Yankees-Pirates game. After Maddon saw a report about it on ESPN a few days ago, he got in touch with Freedom coach Steve Wetzel and invited Challis and his family to Saturday's game.

"I watch these guys on ESPN, and when they tell me that they see me on ESPN, that really puts it in perspective for me," Challis said. "That's pretty special."

That word is better used to describe the recent high school graduate, who has started a foundation (www.courageforlife

foundation.org) to help teens with terminal illnesses. Maddon had a banner bearing the foundation's slogan - Courage + Believe = Life - made up, and the Rays' players and coaches signed it for Challis as a gift.

"We just want to get his message out and help other kids," Wetzel said. "He believes that's why he got this terrible illness, and now he's able to help kids."

FARM FACTS: Durham RHP Chris Mason was suspended three games by the International League after he was ejected from Thursday's game for hitting a Lehigh Valley batter immediately after giving up a home run. Mason, tabbed by minorleaguebaseball.com as the pitcher of the year in Double-A last season, is 3-8 with a 6.33 ERA in 16 Triple-A starts. ... Bulls RHP Juan Salas was placed on the disabled list with a sore right elbow. ... Top draft pick Tim Beckham got his first start at shortstop for Princeton on Saturday after two DH appearances.

Marc Lancaster

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