Maddon guarding lineup vs. southpaws
Right-handers Longoria, Upton shuffled to split up lefty bats
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rays manager Joe Maddon provided a little insight into Tampa Bay's lineup on Wednesday afternoon, saying that he likes the "break-up" bat of Evan Longoria, and will continue to keep the right-handed hitter in the No. 6 slot, sandwiched in between a pair of lefties.
The skipper acknowledged the "lefty-heavy" bats in the team's lineup and has tried to avoid placing lefty hitters, like Carlos Pena and Eric Hinske, back-to-back. The decision to put right-handed batter B.J. Upton between Carl Crawford and Pena is another example of diversifying the lineup.
The main reasoning behind the shuffle is to make it tougher on pitchers, and to avoid scenarios where opponents could easily substitute a lefty specialist. Even though Toronto started righties on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and will start righty Dustin McGowan on Thursday, Maddon says the bullpen could be meddlesome.
"That's where it really shows up, is later in the game," Maddon said. "Instead of having a pinch-hitter, I'd rather just attack it with the lineup we want to use and just find out if lefties can hit lefties. ... The guys are going to be given the opportunity."
Toronto has four southpaws in its 'pen, and the Rays faced Jesse Carlson after only 3 1/3 innings Tuesday, in addition to lefty closer Scott Downs.
Although the offense put up eight hits off right-handed starter Jesse Litsch on Tuesday, the Rays could only muster three off the pair of southpaws, who combined for more mound time than Litsch.
For now, Maddon believes inserting right-handed bats like Longoria will help avoid exposing the offense. The rookie third baseman is batting .242, and was 2-for-5 in Tuesday night's win, including a solo home run off Litsch.
"I think it's the best thing for us if we can get it to work," Maddon said. "If it doesn't and we have to move [Longoria] down at some time, we will do that."
"He's been swinging the bat really good to lefties," Maddon added. "I think the right-handers have been getting some pretty good pitches on him ... [but] I see a good at-bat every time."
With games against Boston and Baltimore on the horizon, Maddon expects his batters to face several more lefty-heavy bullpens, and believes more at-bats against same-side pitching could benefit some of the Rays' batters.
Although going into Wednesday night's game, Pena is batting better against lefties (.269) than right-handers (.146), Hinske has struggled in his at-bats. The utility man is hitting .357 with four home runs against right-handers, but is a mere .200 against southpaws, with his first home run coming Tuesday night off Carlson.
So far the lineup has helped the offense reach equilibrium. Through the first 20 games the Rays are batting .264 as a team vs. lefties and .261 against right-handed opposition.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.