MIAMI - Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon tinkered with his lineup and his batting order again Friday night, moving several players in and out and up and down in an effort to heat up some still-cold bats.
Once again, though, it was the guys whose bats have remained hot no matter what making the difference in the Rays' 5-1 victory against the Marlins in front of 29,268 at Marlins Park.
Matt Joyce, B.J. Upton and Jose Lobaton combined for five hits, including Joyce's 10th homer of the year, and accounted for four of the Rays' runs as Tampa Bay moved into sole possession of first place in the AL East.
"Matt had some really good at-bats tonight and Lobo had another real nice game, too," Maddon said. "They're pitching around (Joyce) a lot, but B.J. has been swinging the bat well behind him."
Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena, whose batting averages have both dipped below .200 in recent days, added RBI singles, but it was Joyce, Upton and the suddenly-hot hitting Lobaton who got the Rays going.
That trio produced a trio of runs in the first five innings against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco to provide some support for Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, who turned in one his shakiest outings of the year.
Hellickson struggled with his control, walking seven batters while striking out three in just 4 1/3 innings of work, but he worked his way out of trouble just long enough to allow the support that Joyce, Upton and Lobaton provided to stand up.
"It wasn't an oil painting tonight," Maddon said of the victory, which was the Rays' second straight after they had lost six of their previous 10. "Helly had real good stuff, but the command just wasn't there. The location wasn't there."
It was there for Burke Badenhop, however. The former Marlins reliever earned the victory when he got Hellickson out of a jam in the fifth by getting John Buck to ground into a double play that came after Hellickson allowed a leadoff single and his seventh walk.
"Getting out of the fifth there was huge," Maddon said. "If he doesn't get that ground ball for us there it's a different ballgame. But he gets Buck there, stays in the game (for an inning) and gets the real meaty part of their order. He was huge tonight."
So was Upton. But what else is new? Upton has played a key role in a lot of the Rays' rallies of late and was at the center of the small outburst that gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead in the third against Nolasco.
After Joyce, who came into the game hitting .285, dropped a two-out double just inside the left-field line and out of the reach of left-fielder Austin Kearns to start things off, Upton singled through the hole at short to produce the run.
The Rays quickly squandered that lead, though, due largely to the trouble Hellickson had with his command as he walked two batters in the inning, giving him four for the game to that point.
"You saw the stuff tonight, but not the command of his stuff," Maddon said of Hellickson. "The fastball was 92, 93; some really good changeups, but the location, the overall command just wasn't there. But the bullpen was fantastic."
Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney followed Badenhop to the mound and finished off the game for the Rays and Hellickson, who helped his own cause from an offensive standpoint in the fourth.
With the game tied at 1-1, Lobaton on second after doubling with one out, Hellickson executed a perfect bunt that moved Lobaton to third and set the stage for Will Rhymes' two-out infield single that scored Lobaton.
Lobaton had reached on his second double in as many trips to the plate against Nolasco, and he has been one of the Rays' hottest hitters since he returned May 28 from a 41-day stint on the disabled list.
Lobaton, who had two hits and an RBI in three at-bats during the Rays' victory against the Yankees on Thursday, now has six hits in the 14 at-bats he's had since returning from his DL stint.
Tampa Bay Rays