ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has very few rules for his players, and SS Yunel Escobar appeared to violate one during Sunday’s win against the Astros when he doubled in the fourth inning on a ball that got past the diving CF Dexter Fowler and rolled to the wall.
In the past, not running hard has earned some players (i.e. former CF B.J. Upton) a seat on the bench.
Escobar drove in a run with the double, but had he made it to third base, he could have scored on C Jose Molina’s groundout.
Escobar declined to talk about the play before Monday’s game.
When asked for his version, Maddon said, “I didn’t see it.”
Maddon said he was watching the ball roll around the outfield. The difference between that play and benching Upton, Maddon said, was Upton was benched for not running out grounders, and it’s easier to see a player not hustle to first on a grounder.
Also, Maddon added, Upton had been warned about not running hard.
“I have not really had that conversation with Yunel prior to that,” Maddon said. “I don’t like that. We don’t want that here. But I didn’t see it, and that matters.”
Maddon said he talked to Escobar prior to Monday’s game. He said he talks to Escobar a lot during the season. Maddon wouldn’t say if Escobar’s double Sunday was part of Monday’s conversation. Maddon also said Escobar had a good game overall Sunday.
“I don’t want to have one incident like that fester at all with him or with anybody else, so for me it’s a moot point. It’s a dead issue. We’re moving along,” Maddon said. “To say something like that would insinuate he’s the reason why we’re not having a good record, which I won’t go there. It’s not true.”
The little things
Maddon said he will take advantage of this 10-game homestand and schedule early work for the team, where they can work on cutoffs, bunt plays and bunt defenses.
“It’s always about fundamentals,” Maddon said. “When things aren’t going well, when you slice into it, normally little things aren’t going your way sometimes because maybe the mental focus isn’t there enough. Maybe you’re not making a play. It’s not necessarily about making errors sometimes, it’s about not making plays, execution-wise. I think the best way to turn up the mental focus is through fundamental work.”
That’s field level
The Rays unveiled a new vantage point for fans — a 20-foot cutout in the wall in left-center field where fans can watch the action from field level through a cyclone fence. This seemed to catch everyone by surprise.
Maddon said he wasn’t aware of the addition to the ballpark experience.
“That might be disruptive from a left-handed hitter’s perspective, I would think,” Maddon said.
The cutout begins about 10 feet from the batter’s eye, so left-handed hitters should not have a problem picking the ball up out of the hand of a right-handed pitcher.
“But movement in there can be disruptive. I think. I don’t know yet,” Maddon said. “I’m going to hear it (Monday night), I’m sure.”
Bench coach Dave Martinez had fond memories of playing against Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who died Monday.
Martinez recalled one game while Martinez was with the Expos when Expos manager Buck Rodgers ordered all three outfielders to move on the pitch so they could possibly get to a spot where Gwynn would hit the ball.
“Everyone scatters one way or the other, Gwynn looked like, ‘What?’ He stepped out. Pitch went by. He grinned a little. Next pitch he hit for a double,” Martinez said. “I would come to the park early in San Diego. He’d hit off the tee almost every day. I used to come to watch him hit, maneuver the bat to see what he was doing, because he was that kind of hitter. You tried to learn as much as you can from him.”
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right elbow surgery) will make his third rehab start tonight when he pitches for Triple A Durham. Hellickson lasted 2 1⁄3 innings in his last start for Durham. He allowed four runs on six hits. “The big thing was that he was well. So there’s nothing negative about it,” Maddon said. Maddon said Hellickson could still rejoin the team after this start ... LHP David Price leads the majors in innings (1072⁄3), strikeouts (121), double-digit strikeout games (six), strikeout/walk ratio (12.1) and walks per nine innings (0.84).