Less is more for red-hot Upton
Rays slugger cutting back on BP with injured shoulder
BOSTON -- B.J. Upton is the hottest player wearing a Rays uniform these days after hitting three home runs in the American League Division Series followed by two in the first three games of the AL Championship Series.
In his 28th at-bat of the postseason, Upton clubbed a three-run homer against Jon Lester in Game 3 on Monday night, giving him five long balls for the postseason after hitting just nine in 531 regular-season at-bats.
Only 11 players in Major League history have hit more than five home runs in any one postseason. Barry Bonds (Giants, 2002) and Carlos Beltran (Astros, 2004) share the record with eight home runs in a single postseason.
In addition, Upton, at 24 years and two months, is the youngest player to hit five or more home runs in a single postseason. At 24 years and nine months, Albert Pujols hit six home runs for the Cardinals in 2004.
Upton has now hit safely in six consecutive postseason games since going 0-for-5 in Game 1 of the ALDS, and is 9-for-26 (.346) with five home runs, nine RBIs and seven runs scored since Game 1 of the ALDS.
All season, Upton has played with unspecified left shoulder damage in the labrum area, which will require offseason surgery and was a factor in the decline of his home run numbers in 2008. The strange part is that he suddenly is hitting home runs again.
Rays manager Joe Maddon believes having Upton take less batting practice has been a key in his shoulder feeling better, which has allowed him to start pulling the ball again with great success.
"He's cut down on the number of swings he's taking before the game," Maddon said. "Sometimes you swing too much. There's a point of diminishing returns in everything. And with him, his shoulder was a little bit weak, and he's been doing all the exercises with Ron [Porterfield, Rays head athletic trainer] that he's supposed to.
"I think it was the Kansas City series where we didn't take BP on the field for a couple of games [because of rain] and all of a sudden he started feeling good. I just think he's feeling better. He's able to pull the ball again. He was not really able to get the head out and pull the ball before. All of a sudden, the power surge is coming in left-center, where earlier, he could not get the head out to the point where he could hit the ball to left-center."
Upton agreed with his manager about the positive effects of cutting down the amount of batting practice he takes.
"It's given [the shoulder] a lot of rest, and rest is always good this time of year," Upton said.
Upton shrugged when asked if anything else could be attributed for his power surge.
"I don't know," Upton said. "Maybe my positioning on the plate and my hands are flying in there a little more comfortable now. Like I said, I've got them in a comfortable spot to where I can fire them the way I want to."
Maddon believes that players take way too much batting practice in general.
"No question, hitters take way too many swings," Maddon said. "I'm a total advocate of backing off as the season is in progress. I think you can swing your way into a slump. I think there's times when you shouldn't swing at all. You lose feel.
"I think you lose feel for what you're doing because you do it so often that that little thing that happens in your hands between your fingertips and your elbows, that feeling evades you. And you lose feel for the end of the bat. So sometimes it's better to do less than more."
Now that Upton is feeling better with less batting practice, will he consider taking less batting practice in 2009 after his left shoulder has been surgically repaired?
"No, not at all," Upton said. "I just haven't been taking as much batting practice because my shoulder's not fully there. Once I get this surgery in the offseason, I'll be back on the same program."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.