Tampa Bay Rays
Defensive issues linger for Rays
ST. PETERSBURG - Early in spring training, Manager Joe Maddon challenged all of his starting position players to win a Gold Glove Award this season. Multiple Gold Gloves didn't seem terribly far-fetched the way the Rays played defense en route to last year's AL pennant, but at least collectively, they have not been able to replicate that level in 2009. After games in which they do, such as Tuesday's 6-2 victory vs. the Yankees, questions about the lack of consistency arise. "That surprises me, because, if there's a controllable part of the game, I thought that would be it," Maddon said. "When you have good defenders - and our guys really do work at it every day - I would think we would have played at a higher level than we have."After tying for fourth in the American League in fielding percentage last year (.985) and committing the fourth-fewest errors (90), the Rays were tied for eighth in fielding (.983) with the fifth-most errors (63) in the AL entering Wednesday. Notably, Carlos Pena, last year's Gold Glove winner at 1B, had committed eight errors after making two last year, and part-time INF Willy Aybar has six. C Dioner Navarro had thrown out 13 of 57 steal attempts (22.8 percent) after ranking third in the majors last year at 35.7 percent. Those numbers also don't speak to plays the Rays haven't made that weren't scored as errors. But CF B.J. Upton and LF Carl Crawford have made highlight-reel catches - Crawford took MVP honors in the All-Star Game with one such catch - and Tuesday night, Crawford, Upton, SS Jason Bartlett, RF Gabe Kapler and Navarro all made stellar plays. "We've still got two months to show how really good we are on defense," Maddon said. "If we do that, it's going to make a huge difference by the end of the season." Help coming Maddon said 2B Akinori Iwamura (left knee) and OF Fernando Perez (left wrist) could be available by Sept. 1 when rosters expand. Iwamura, out since May 24, took batting practice and fielded ground balls for a second consecutive day. Perez, injured during spring training, also hit on the field and is close to being ready for at least a simulated game. C Shawn Riggans (shoulder tendinitis) completed his rehab assignment at Single-A Charlotte and was optioned to Triple-A Durham on Wednesday. RHP Chad Bradford, on the DL with lower back tightness, is "starting to loosen up," Maddon said. Trade watching Maddon was asked about the trade Wednesday that sent reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco from the Indians to the Phillies and cracked, "I know Andy Sonnanstine is really happy about that." Francisco is 8-for-9 (.889) with five home runs and 12 RBIs against Sonnanstine, who is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA at Triple-A Durham. Maddon also was complimentary of Indians C Victor Martinez, whose name has come up with the Rays in trade speculation. The two got into a shouting match during a game May 17 in Cleveland after Kerry Wood threw behind and inside Upton. "Getting to know him at the All-Star Game a little bit, he's a good fellow," Maddon said. "We talked about the time we had our exchange during the game. As it turned out, he's a really good guy. We laughed at that whole thing." Martinez, who was batting .283 with 67 RBIs entering Wednesday, has been throwing much better since coming back from an arm problem, Maddon said.