No. 9 hitters are proving to be no easy out
Bottom of order collects plenty of hits, RBIs on road trip
OAKLAND -- On some teams, No. 9 hitters are all but automatic outs.
On the Rays, they've become "X" factors, hitters who are playing a surprisingly big role in the team's attack.
Before Sunday, when no Rays managed a hit against the A's Dallas Braden in a 4-0 loss, the Rays' No. 9 hitters had been blistering the ball on this road trip.
In two starts against Seattle, both victories, Gabe Kapler went a combined 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a double.
Sean Rodriguez crushed a huge two-run double in the Rays' 4-1 victory over the A's on Friday night. Reid Brignac went 1-for-4 with a double during Saturday's 4-2 loss to Oakland. In a victory over Seattle on Tuesday, he went 1-for-4 and drove in a run. When Brignac pinch-hit for Kapler on Wednesday, he drilled an RBI double and scored a run.
Brignac, Rodriguez, Kapler, John Jaso, Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach, who's on the DL, have all had turns in the No. 9 hole.
There's been no letup for opposing pitchers when they get to the bottom of the Rays' batting order.
"Everybody now obviously has scouting reports," Rodriguez said before Sunday's game against the A's. "They can see what we've been doing, what we've done in the past. They know what we're capable of. I think that's what's paying a lot of dividends.
"They have to focus so much just on us that it's making them have to bear down through nine, as opposed to just maybe the middle of the lineup. One through nine, each pitcher we face knows they have to bear down."
Entering Sunday, Brignac was hitting .293 with 14 RBIs, tops among American League rookies. Jaso was hitting .314. Kapler took a three-game hitting streak into Sunday's start and was 3-for-8 with two RBIs on the road trip. Rodriguez was hitting just .208, but he had a pair of singles off reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, along with his key double off the A's Gio Gonzalez.
Rodriguez said the success Tampa Bay's No. 9 hitters are having is "a tribute to the way everybody works," and the result of having a talent-laden team.
"From one through nine, you've got a lot of ability here," Rodriguez said. "Guys who can hit, guys who can play and people really trying to stay focused, too, not letting what's going on, or how we're playing or where we're at, dictate how we're going to go out there and approach the game.
"I'm sure there's some kind of competition among us, but not anything big," he said of the No. 9 hitters. "We all want to do well, obviously, not just for purposes, basically, of who's the best nine hitter, but who's going to help the team win. It's really been paying off. That's what's beautiful."
Trip to Anaheim no homecoming for Maddon
OAKLAND -- Before becoming the Rays' manager in 2006, Joe Maddon spent 31 years in the Angels' organization, most of his last 10 seasons as the Major League bench coach.
Unfortunately for Maddon, who has a home in Long Beach, Calif., there have been no happy homecomings when the Rays have played in Anaheim. He's 1-13 against the Angels at Angels Stadium, where the Rays are set to open a three-game series Monday.
"I stink there," Maddon said before Sunday's 4-0 loss in the series finale against the A's. "I do. They've beat us badly there for several years. I've got to get my stuff together."
Maddon has been able to keep his sense of humor about his struggles against the team that signed him to a Minor League contract in 1975 and gave him his start in coaching.
Maddon said the Angels have had so much success against him in Anaheim that they must have his office bugged.
"They might have some form of covert operation," Maddon joked. "We're going to have to sweep for bugs there."
Maddon said he understands why the Rays struggled against the Angels in 2006 and '07.
"In '06 and '07 we weren't very good," he said.
"They just outplayed us," he said. "We have not pitched on a consistent basis. In the beginning, '06, I used to get kicked out all the time. I've reined that in. We've just been outplayed there."
Longoria starts despite sore shin
OAKLAND -- Rays third baseman Evan Longoria started Sunday's game despite pain in his left leg. Longoria fouled a ball off his shin during the sixth inning Saturday, but he remained in the game.
"Sore but good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Longoria before Sunday's series finale against the A's, in which the Rays were the victims, 4-0, of Dallas Braden's perfect game.
Longoria has started all 31 games, and he has said he wants to play every game this year. Maddon said he wouldn't mind, as long as Longoria remains healthy.
"If he's well, I believe he is capable of playing all games," Maddon said.
Maddon, meanwhile, said he received positive reports on the progress of the three Rays players on the disabled list: reliever J.P. Howell (left shoulder strain), outfielder Matt Joyce (right elbow strain) and catcher Kelly Shoppach (right knee sprain).
Howell, who played catch from up to 205 feet Saturday, will throw another side session on Tuesday and batting practice on Friday. "Didn't bother him at all," Maddon said.
If all goes well, he'll soon throw a simulated game. Maddon said he "thinks we're still on target" for activating Howell late this month.
Joyce played catch Saturday but has yet to throw from 90 feet and has not resumed swinging the bat.
"He's really progressing well," Maddon said.
As for a timetable for Joyce's return, Maddon said, "We'll be able to start creating that once he throws from 90 feet and starts swinging the bat."
Shoppage had a "real good" cardiovascular and lower body workout Saturday, including work in the pool.
"When he got out of the pool, he felt great," Maddon said.
Cuban first baseman/outfielder Leslie Anderson will be assigned to the Rays' Class A Charlotte farm team of the Florida State League on Monday. He has been taking part in extended spring camp in Port Charlotte, Fla., since signing with Tampa Bay on April 13. He was a member of Cuba's World Baseball Classic teams in 2006 and '09. ... Rays left fielder Carl Crawford went 0-for-3 on Sunday and is hitless in his past 12 at-bats. ... Right fielder Ben Zobrist's five-game hitting streak was snapped with an 0-for-3. He's batting .286 over his past six games. ... Center fielder B.J. Upton and designated hitter Willy Aybar each struck out twice on Sunday against A's lefty Dallas Braden.
Eric Gilmore is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.