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09/17/08 7:30 PM ET

Ruggiano rewarded for new approach

Rays rookie back in lineup for series finale with Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' lineup on Wednesday night wasn't just an attempt to shake things up against Boston's knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Manager Joe Maddon has liked the improved plate approach from Justin Ruggiano and wanted the rookie outfielder -- who got the start in left field -- to stay locked in.

"I just think his confidence is up a little bit right now," Maddon said. "And we want to keep him part of this situation."

The proverbial hat tip from the Rays skipper means a lot to Ruggiano, who had a talk with Maddon during last week's series in Boston concerning his struggles.

"It was all positive," Ruggiano said of the conversation, in which Maddon told him to focus on his strong points. "He keeps us positive. He keeps me consistent in what my game should be and where he wants it to be."

Following the talk, the 26-year-old Ruggiano started Saturday's game in New York and recorded his first Major League three-hit game, snapping an 0-for-15 skid.

"This game is so mental," Ruggiano said. "If you just pay attention to the small things as far as mechanics, I feel like I was just able to watch the tape and see what I was doing. I was overcompensating in some areas with my swing."

Maddon points to Ruggiano's re-emerging ability to hit to right-center field -- the location of Monday's home run -- as a telltale sign that the young outfielder is making strides.

"The Minor League guys all talked about his ability to drive the ball to the opposite gap," Maddon said. "When he came up, he was trying to pull the ball too often, which he doesn't do."

So far, a few minor adjustments and a growing confidence level have proved to be the difference, as Ruggiano was 3-for-7 with two RBIs on the Rays' last road trip, and entered Wednesday's game with three extra-base hits in his last six at-bats. The Rays are hoping Ruggiano can continue to zone in and add another strong right-handed bat to their arsenal.

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.