05/15/10 9:07 PM ET
Blalock excited to return to big leagues
By Adam Berry and Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Blalock, 29, was promoted to Tampa Bay from Triple-A Durham when Pat Burrell was designated for assignment. The left-handed slugger will likely platoon at designated hitter with switch-hitter Willy Aybar, but he also provides the defensive flexibility to play either first or third base if necessary. Blalock hit .349 in 109 at-bats with Durham, racking up five doubles, four home runs and 24 RBIs with a .405 on-base percentage and .505 slugging percentage.
But just being back in the Majors isn't enough to make Blalock happy. He said he had become a one-dimensional power hitter and needs to become a more complete player to contribute for Tampa Bay this season.
"With anything in life, you constantly have to prove yourself every day. You don't deserve anything. You've got to earn everything you get," Blalock said after the Rays' 3-2 win over the Mariners on Saturday. "I was in Triple-A for a reason and had to work my way back to the big leagues.
"I was just going up there and competing. I was trying to remind myself to get back to the player that got me to the big leagues in the first place."
Manager Joe Maddon said Blalock's improved defense has been one of the most encouraging signs of his development, and it made the decision to promote him that much easier. With Blalock capable of playing at designated hitter, first base or third, Maddon can use Aybar, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria in different roles.
"On a nightly basis, the DH can be moved around a little bit more. More of a fluid DH," Maddon said. "Willy against lefties, Hank against righties, and furthermore if you want to get Carlos a day off his feet and have him still DH, you've got Hank over there also.
"He gives us all of that. He gives us a little more flexibility in the lineup positionally and in regards to the left-right-handed DH stuff. Also, I believe he's going to fit into our culture well. He's going to fit into the clubhouse well. I got to know him during Spring Training and I like him."
And Blalock already likes what he sees from the Rays. The nine-year veteran, who played with Texas before signing a Minor League deal with Tampa Bay on March 8, knows this could be his first chance to make a deep playoff run, and he is eager to get on the field and help push the Rays toward that goal.
"There's so much talent on this team. If you look through their lineup and through their pitching staff, it's a great situation for me to be in," he said. "It's really exciting for me to play with these guys. You can see the energy that they play with and the winning attitude every day. I could tell right away, the first day I'm here. It's great. I'm excited to be a part of it."
Fan runs onto field at Rays game
ST. PETERSBURG -- In the top of the ninth, a shirtless fan jumped from the stands along the left-field line and onto the field, running toward center field where a chase from Tropicana Field security ensued.
The fan managed to dodge security on their first attempts to apprehend him before they finally pancaked him in front of Rays center fielder B.J. Upton.
"You know what, him running at me, not knowing what he was doing, I kind of had my guard up," Upton said. "But once he got close and started waving, like, 'What's up,' after that, it was kind of funny actually. I think I saw that happen one other time in Baltimore. But that's the first time I was actually on the field when it happened."
Security led the fan toward the left-field corner where he resisted and again was taken down before they finally led him off the field.
Rays manager Joe Maddon kept a sense of humor about the incident.
"It always is [a little bizarre]," Maddon said. "But it's always a sign of having made it, in a sense, when you get streakers or semi-streakers during a game. I don't think they streak at last-place teams' games. I think streaking only occurs when teams are of the upper echelon. I've always felt that way. The more we win, the more you're going to see of that, I believe."
Pena dropped to sixth in order on Saturday
ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Pena, in a 3-for-48 hitting slump, moved from his usual fifth spot in the order to sixth, with Willy Aybar hitting in the five hole as the designated hitter and B.J. Upton sliding down to the seventh spot in Saturday's game against the Mariners.
Rays manager Joe Maddon hinted at a possible change Friday, but noted before Saturday's game that the switch is just for one day and Pena could move back up the order as soon as Sunday. Maddon simply liked the matchup of Aybar hitting fifth against Seattle left-hander Jason Vargas.
"For right now, Willy hitting right-handed, I think, is our best option in the five hole today," Maddon said. "As of today, I wanted to do that. I felt based on what he's been doing, to me it was the right thing to do. Just moving those other guys a slot down was no big deal."
Dating back to April 29, Pena has gone 3-for-48, struck out 22 times and drawn just seven walks while seeing his batting average fall to .176. The first baseman acknowledged his struggles at the plate after the Rays lost 4-3 to the Mariners on Friday night, but also pointed to some of the positive things he has done by extending his at-bats and forcing starters to throw a lot of pitches.
"Things haven't gone exactly the way I've wanted them to go. In all the failures, there's also some good at-bats mixed in in there. It's just easy to overlook," Pena said. "I think there's something to be said about going up there and being too careful, too, and trying not to swing at bad pitches instead of attacking the zone the way I know how to."
Maddon echoed those sentiments Saturday: "There was a night a couple games ago where Carlos struck out a couple times, didn't get any hits, but saw 33 pitches. That's conducive to a team win right there. That's what I'm talking about, also. When you get nine guys going up there with that kind of an approach, you get starters out earlier, you get into the middle bullpen sooner, that's always going to be beneficial to us."
Pena's hitting woes have been representative of the Rays' offensive troubles of late. Friday night, Tampa Bay's fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth hitters all went 0-for-4.
Maddon hopes that putting Aybar in the middle of the order will inject some life into his team's bats. The switch-hitter is hitting .255 on the season in 51 at-bats.
"That's been a difficult spot for us as of late. They're really good hitters. These guys are really able to produce a lot of points for us throughout the course of the season," Maddon said. "It's just one of those things you've got to ride out. A lot of talk, a lot of support, keep throwing them out there and eventually it's going to start flipping in your favor. For right now, it's just been kind of tough."
Nelly rocks the Trop after win
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays brought in the latest installment of their Summer Concert Series in style with a 3-2 win over the Mariners before hip-hop star Nelly took the stage.
Nelly, a Cardinals fan who wore the Rays' "TB" logo on his shirt while performing, entertained the crowd for more than an hour to wrap up "Hip Hop Night" at Tropicana Field.
The St. Louis native didn't draw quite as large of a crowd as ZZ Top did on May 1. Saturday's attendance of 23,627 was also lower than that day's crowd of 34,813, but he was certainly a bigger hit with the younger fans -- including most of Tampa Bay's players.
"I know we're all music lovers in here and we like his stuff," Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said. "A lot of us can relate to him, I think. A lot of us couldn't relate to ZZ Top."
Shortstop Jason Bartlett used some of Nelly's songs as his at-bat music, including "Country Grammar," one of his biggest hits, for his first plate appearance of the game.
Tampa Bay also kept up its impressive record on nights of the Summer Concert Series, moving to 18-3 dating back to 2008. Although Saturday night's crowd wasn't quite as large, the club averaged more than 30,000 fans in the previous 20 concert dates.
"It's awesome, man. It gives a reason for the fans to come out and have a good time," Upton said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter and Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.