Crawford finding home in No. 5 hole
Rays' multitalented outfielder embracing move down in order
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays spark plug Carl Crawford is slated to bat in the No. 5 hole for Friday's Game 1 of the American League Championship series, a lineup that manager Joe Maddon carried over from the AL Division Series.
"Carl can steal bases, and he can get better pitches for the six-hole guy," Maddon said. "I just like him in the middle of this whole thing right now. For me, it tastes pretty good right now."
"I believe Carl is a very good RBI guy," Maddon said. " [An] RBI situation with two outs -- I like guys that don't hit fly balls. ... When you have a runner in scoring position with two outs, the more often you can stay on the ground or on the line [there] is a better or higher-percentage chance of driving in that run, unless you can hit the ball over the wall."
While Crawford's return to the field has been seamless, Maddon has been particularly pleased with his transition back at the dish.
"There's no hesitation," Maddon said. "There's no favoring [with his hand], there's no anything."
Crawford hit .273 with 12 doubles, 10 triples and 57 RBIs for the Rays this season, and Maddon believes the two-time AL All Star is just starting to get his swing back.
"He's got room to get better," Maddon said.
Crawford echoed the sentiment, saying that he wasn't quite back to 100 percent at the plate for the ALDS. He will look to provide more of a lift in the second round.
Although he was initially skeptical of moving down in the lineup, Crawford said that he enjoys the "change of pace" and the ability to drive in the Rays' Nos. 1-4 hitters.
"I like hitting right there [at No. 5]," Crawford said. "It's a nice little comfortable spot. There's not as much pressure, and you can do what you need to do."
Having Crawford's threatening speed on base -- he had 25 steals this year -- also changes the way opponents pitch to the Rays' No. 6 hitter, slugging designated hitter Cliff Floyd.
"I can't see him taking off, because I'm left-handed," Floyd said. "So it's a little nerve-wracking at times, because the pitcher holds the ball a little longer. But you can see exactly how pitchers want to pitch you, and you get a good idea of what he's trying to do."
Floyd acknowledged that putting Crawford in the No. 5 spot is like having another leadoff man, and it ensures that the Rays will send a speedster to the plate nearly every inning.
The Rays No. 2 hitter, B.J. Upton, and bottom-of-the-order shortstop Jason Bartlett, have a combined 64 stolen bases, keeping the club's lethal speed sprinkled throughout the lineup.
"The number in the order doesn't really matter in this lineup," Bartlett said. "There's a number of leadoff hitters, there's a number of three-hole hitters, cleanup hitter -- everybody does their own job. And every inning it's like having your best three hitters up. That's just how we win."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.