Struggling Upton sits; Pena moved down
Maddon confident both hitters will break out of slumps
ST. PETERSBURG -- Looking to get two of his hitters out of season-long slumps, Rays manager Joe Maddon shook up his lineup Wednesday night. B.J. Upton did not start, and Carlos Pena was once again bumped down the order, this time to seventh.
Upton is hitting .210 on the season -- .154 in May -- and Pena is batting .186 on the year and just .127 this month. The two have proven to be more than capable at the plate when they find their swings, so Maddon decided to sit Upton and move Pena behind catcher John Jaso and designated hitter Hank Blalock.
"They're struggling, both of them," Maddon said. "It's just about strike zone organization, attacking the pitch that you can hit, laying off the one you cannot. A lot of it is confidence right now. When you get into a bad run, a lot of it is confidence."
Maddon said Upton might be out of the lineup Thursday night as well, though he won't hesitate to bring the speedy center fielder in as a defensive replacement. Maddon had "a nice conversation" with Upton before the game, explaining that he thought Upton was pressing too much. That self-imposed pressure, according to left fielder Carl Crawford, might actually make it harder for Upton to match his previous success in the batter's box.
"He wants to come back and play good, and he's been working hard to try to do that," Crawford said. "But sometimes you try too hard, get tense at the plate. You're not relaxed at the plate. That could be the case."
Pena, meanwhile, was moved down in the order due only in part to his struggles. Jaso's impressive offensive numbers and Blalock's past performances against Wednesday's Red Sox starter, John Lackey, made the decision a little easier on Maddon.
Maddon said he isn't concerned about Pena's average, and he understands that the power-hitting first baseman is somewhat of a slow starter -- he's done this in previous years around this time. However, he wants Pena to start accepting that he will hit into outs where other players will get on base due to the shift opponents use against him.
"Once he gets a couple knocks, his confidence will be right back to where it needs to be," Maddon said. "I'm just trying to monitor both of those guys, because they're so important to us. Furthermore, the guys that have stepped in in these different moments have done well for us. And that's part of keeping everybody during the course of the season."
Crawford hoping to avoid disciplinary action
ST. PETERSBURG -- Neither Carl Crawford nor Joe Maddon heard anything Wednesday about possible disciplinary action in the aftermath of each of their ejections by Bob Davidson in Tuesday night's 2-0 loss to the Red Sox.
Crawford had taken a pitch for a strike from Boston's Jon Lester with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, and Tampa Bay's left fielder appeared shocked when Davidson called the pitch a strike. From there, a confrontation between Crawford and Davidson developed.
Tim Tschida, the crew chief, spoke on behalf of Davidson after Tuesday night's game and explained Crawford's ejection: "Carl didn't like the strike call and made his point. And they were hammering it back and forth, but Carl gradually started moving closer to the umpire. And Bob's line was, 'Now you're coming into my space here, back off.' And when he said, 'Back off,' [Crawford] actually moved closer. That's why Carl was ejected from the game."
Crawford disputed that explanation Wednesday.
"I saw the one quote he said, he lied about that one quote," Crawford said. "[Davidson] said he told me to get out of my space. He didn't say anything like that. He did not say nothing like that."
Crawford said he hopes to slip by without receiving any disciplinary action, which he maintained is a reasonable expectation due to the fact he "wasn't the aggressor."
"He did everything," Crawford said of Davidson. "I was kind of being a man. Somebody's screaming and yelling at you, you're going to scream back. I was just trying to defend myself."
Maddon believes that any recourse stemming from the incident is not necessary.
"I just think it was a good old argument based on a rather large strike zone," Maddon said.
Blackhawks to suit up Rays with jerseys
ST. PETERSBURG -- In what has become a team custom, the Rays will adopt a theme for their upcoming road trip, which they have done for different trips during Joe Maddon's tenure as manager.
The club is traveling to Toronto, so it made perfect sense for the Rays to don hockey jerseys. Over the past couple of days, players have been working to procure jerseys from their favorite hockey teams to wear on the trip.
When talking about the trip on Tuesday, Maddon noted that he was a St. Louis Blues fans, but he added that he liked the Chicago Blackhawks because -- while politically incorrect -- he liked their logo. This led to Wednesday's development.
Upon hearing of Tampa Bay's plan for the upcoming road trip, the Blackhawks graciously offered to outfit any Rays player needing a hockey jersey in a Blackhawks jersey. Maddon beamed at the news.
"How about that," Maddon said. "I walk in today and all of a sudden, the Blackhawks get in touch with us. I'm going to have John Madden's jersey, hopefully. I'm rooting for that now, No. 11 with an 'e.'"
Maddon maintained his smile when asked what he would say to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who might take the Rays' acceptance of the Blackhawks' gesture as a slap in the face and answered: "They're not in the Stanley Cup Finals this year and they didn't offer."
But if they did send a jersey his way ...
"I'll take it," Maddon said.
Shoppach close to going on rehab stint
ST. PETERSBURG -- After more than a month on the disabled list, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach is getting anxious to get back on the field.
The catcher said the rehab for his sprained right knee has been going well, and with a potential rehab assignment for Class A Charlotte looming at the beginning of next week, the trainers are running him through the last series of tests before he can get back in the game.
"So far, so good," said Shoppach, who caught a bullpen session and threw from behind the plate before Wednesday night's game against the Red Sox. "[I'm] getting antsy now, because I feel like I'm getting close, but there are still some things I have to go through and test out OK and make sure everything's good to go before I get a chance to get out and play."
Shoppach said there isn't a sure-fire sign for the trainers to know he will be ready to begin his rehab stint, but these exercises are more to ensure that his knee will hold up behind the plate and in the batter's box. He will hit, catch another bullpen session, run the bases and slide on Thursday to continue to put pressure on his knee, which he injured in a collision at the plate against the Yankees on April 10.
"One step at a time, I guess," Shoppach said. "It's like Spring Training again."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday that Shoppach will likely be sent to Port Charlotte, Fla., this weekend or Monday, which would line up with the early June return previously set for him.
"I don't know that anybody made a timetable," Shoppach said. "I would love to. I would love to be back six weeks ago."
Regardless of the specific return date, Shoppach is ready to get back on the field -- a feeling that only grows stronger as the moment approaches.
"Now that I'm doing more baseball stuff, I'm actually starting to get a little antsy and want to do a little more, trying to push the envelope a little bit," he said.
Benoit's strikeout streak ends
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays reliever Joaquin Benoit's impressive strikeout streak finally came to an end Tuesday night.
The right-hander had struck out nine consecutive batters before Kevin Youkilis drew a leadoff walk in the ninth inning of the Red Sox's 2-0 win over the Rays in Tropicana Field. Benoit pitched an inning of relief and recorded just one strikeout, the last out of the inning, facing Jeremy Hermida.
His nine consecutive punchouts, which came over three appearances, gave him the longest such streak over multiple outings since Eric Gagne fanned 10 over four games for the Dodgers in 2003, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Aside from the walk, Benoit did not allow a baserunner Tuesday night. He has given up two hits and two walks in nine innings since being called up from Triple-A Durham on April 29.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.