Take a load off: Rest does Upton well
Slugger starts to come around at plate despite shoulder injury
CHICAGO -- B.J. Upton has found an opportune time to start feeling more comfortable at the plate. The Rays center fielder has endured a trying season -- a campaign mired by a nagging injury that continues to sap Upton's power.
Until the offseason arrives and provides Upton with a much-needed respite, rest has been the only prescription for his ongoing left shoulder problem. Since August, Tampa Bay has permitted Upton to take fewer swings in the batting cage in an effort to regain some of his strength.
If the past two games of the American League Division Series against the White Sox are any indication, Upton appears to be on the right path. That could prove critical to a Tampa Bay squad that is trying to finish off Chicago to claim the first postseason series win in franchise history.
"We could use him at a very high level," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And that's where he is playing right now."
During Game 3 on Sunday, the 24-year-old Upton slammed the first pitch he received from Chicago lefty John Danks in the seventh inning deep to left field for a two-run homer. The Rays lost, 5-3, but it was still a positive sign from the young outfielder. The blast was only Upton's second homer in a span of 31 games.
Upton needed just two more trips to the plate to go yard again.
In the first inning of Monday's Game 4, Upton drilled a 2-1 pitch from Chicago right-hander Gavin Floyd over the left-field wall for a solo shot -- his third extra-base hit in as many games. Upton followed that with another solo homer in the third inning, giving him three homers in a span of four at-bats.
In Game 2 on Friday, Upton collected an eighth-inning triple -- a hit that snapped an 0-for-8 skid to open the series against the White Sox. Upton said that he's been working on an altered approach at the plate, though the changes are more of a return to a style that he's strayed from in recent weeks.
"I've just made some minor adjustments," Upton said. "Hopefully I can continue to swing the bat the way I have been in the last couple games. I was kind of spinning off the ball a little bit. I'm trying to work back to the middle of the field.
"That's always been my strength -- stay up the middle. I kind of got away from it until the last couple games."
In a sense, Upton hasn't looked like himself all season.
In 145 games for the Rays, Upton hit .273 with nine homers, 67 RBIs and a .401 slugging percentage over 531 at-bats. It was a considerable drop-off from 2007, when Upton hit .300 with 24 homers, 82 RBIs and a .508 slugging percentage across 474 at-bats.
Upton has made up for the slide in other areas, stealing 44 bases and drawing 97 walks during the season, but he still hasn't found consistent power production.
It was revealed in early September that Upton has been playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder -- an ailment that will likely require surgery after the season. Since decreasing his pregame workload, though, Upton has shown progress.
"B.J. has had rest," Maddon said. "We were trying to back off, in regard to his [batting practice], to get him strong again and we've done that. He is starting to get that nice click in the bat. That nice bassy sound when he hits the ball.
"He is feeling pretty good about himself. I've said it all along, this is a wonderful young athlete who is becoming a very good baseball player. I like everything he's doing. He is going to continue to get better."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.