ST. PETERSBURG -- Those fans hoping Joe Maddon had an innovative reason for inserting designated hitter Willy Aybar into Monday's lineup would be sorely disappointed. For all of the creative, inventive ideas the Rays manager tosses out during the course of a season, the choice to put Aybar in action was plain as dry toast: It was simply Aybar's turn.
"First of all, nobody really reads well against [Monday starter] CC Sabathia," said Maddon, of the Yankees' 19-game winner. "I don't care, it's very rare that you get a hitter that's, 'Oh, I really like him in that situation,' so you have to contend with that."
Tampa Bay added a plethora of talent after September's roster expansion, and has so far gotten good mileage out of its entire roster. The Rays continued to showcase their flexibility Monday by inserting Aybar in the eight-hole.
The decision boiled down to three players, with Aybar the honoree after the switch-hitter had been off the past few days. As far as the science of choosing, Maddon admitted there was definitely nothing "crystal ball-esque" about his move, just that Aybar needed to get some at-bats in. Other potential inserts were Rocco Baldelli and Dan Johnson.
It probably didn't hurt any that the 27-year-old Aybar entered Monday's contest with a double, a homer and four RBIs in 13 at-bats against Sabathia, who has amassed six wins in his last seven starts.
The Rays have made their intentions clear, declaring their goal is not simply to make the playoffs but to win the American League East as well. They'd put themselves in a good spot to do just that should they succeed during the three-game home series with New York, which leads them by a half-game. As it all starts with Monday and Sabathia, Maddon pegged Aybar to go from there.
"I'd like to believe it's going to be the same in regards to aggressiveness [no matter who is in the lineup]; you just have more choices now at this time of year," he said. "For the most part, everybody that's on this roster right now is participating. When it comes down to winning the game, we could use any one of them."