Upton showing signs of breaking funk
Center fielder finding familiar stroke after rough start
ST. PETERSBURG -- It's not what manager Joe Maddon sees that lets him know Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton may be breaking out of his season-long slump.
It's what he hears.
"It's making that right sound," Maddon said, referring to Upton's bat on the ball.
It sounded good Sunday, when Upton came off the bench to rip one off the wall in left in the eighth inning against the Twins. It sounded good in the third inning Tuesday, when he singled up the middle against Kansas City. And it sounded good Wednesday, when he crushed a two-run double.
"It's getting there, still a long way to go," Upton said. "But if I can stay the way I am the rest of the season, it should turn out pretty good."
Upton's average stood at just .218 entering Thursday, but he was in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak and was 8-for-16 over his past five games. Over his past 20 games entering Thursday, he was batting .287 -- up from .160 over his first 26 games.
Those numbers are far more normal for Upton, who has a .270 career average and led the Rays with a .383 on-base percentage last year. He also tied an American League postseason record with seven home runs last October.
But after missing the first week of this season while recovering from left shoulder surgery, Upton has been scuffling to find the rhythm that made him one of the team's most dangerous hitters. He's driven in only 11 runs this season entering Thursday, and his .623 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was second lowest among regular starters on the team.
Nonetheless, Maddon has stuck with him at the leadoff spot, waiting patiently for Upton to turn the corner. He thinks that may have happened recently.
"I know him and [first-base coach George Hendrick] have been doing a lot of work, and you're starting to see signs of it," Maddon said. "There's an ebbing and flowing to the season, and when you know somebody's not going good, you can't get too distraught over it. He's going to be OK."
Maddon acknowledged that not starting Upton on Sunday may have allowed him time to clear his thoughts. But he doesn't expect his young outfielder to miss more games in the future. Unless, of course, he stops hearing that sound.
"No question," Maddon said. "It's going to keep getting better and better, too."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.