B.J. Upton started at third, Ben Zobrist at shortstop, and J.P. Howell at pitcher -- all wore Triple-A Durham uniforms this past weekend -- and they graded out good, fair, and poor on Tuesday night.
Upton is the kind of athlete who steps on the field and everybody just knows he's an athlete. Third base is new to him after spending his entire professional career -- save for an abbreviated stint with the Rays in 2004 -- trying to master shortstop. But for now he'll take Major League third baseman over Minor League shortstop. He looked smooth in the field and at the plate.
"That's baseball," said Upton downplaying his good start. "It's still the same game, you know, it's just a different level."
Upton received a smattering of boos before his first at-bat, which could be traced to an unflattering USA Today article that featured Upton and fellow Durham prospects Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. Cheers followed when he singled to right-center field. After striking out in his next two at-bats, he added a double in the eighth that saw him glide into second base, making the act of running fast look way too easy.
Throwing errors have haunted Upton throughout his career, but during his re-introduction to the Major Leagues, he fielded flawlessly, at times showing off his strong arm and athleticism as he did when he backhanded Placido Polanco's shot down third base and snapped a sidearm strike to first base.
"I thought B.J. did a nice job at third base," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "[I'm] really pleased with the way he went after the ball and threw it very accurately. The one play was very gifted. ... He's very excited about being here, so he's got that little bit of extra adrenaline going for him. Plus he's good."
Zobrist came to the Rays in the trade that sent Aubrey Huff to Houston. He had an average game, which almost seemed predictable since the scouting report on the 25-year-old is he's a "baseball player." Translated, this means he's not going to catch one's eye the first night, or maybe not even the second, but eventually he becomes beloved for his steady play, making few mistakes, and doing anything it takes to win. Tuesday he went hitless in four at-bats, but his play at shortstop brought no bad reviews.
"Zobrist is going to be fine, I see a steadiness out of him," Maddon said. "I even like what I saw of him in pregame, the way he gets ready, I kind of liked that."
Finally, there was Howell, who came to the Rays in the deal that sent Joey Gathright to the Royals. He did not experience a pleasant beginning with the Rays.
"J.P. had a tough time tonight, there's just no way of getting around that," Maddon said. "We'll see what he looks like next time out."
Howell retired the Tigers in order in the first and the Rays scored two in the bottom half of the inning to give the left-hander momentum that he was unable to seize in the top of the second. In the Tigers' second turn at bat, 10 hitters went to the plate and five runs scored during the 43-pitch inning. Carlos Guillen added a home run in the third -- providing one of the critical pieces to his hitting for the cycle -- to push the lead to 6-2. Howell was lifted after just 3 2/3 innings.
"I was up man, that was just it," Howell said. "I think I was pitching to prove that trade right. ... Wish it would have went a little better, but it's something you can fix. Get a lot more ground balls. ... I was trying to pitch to prove something."
The new beginning has now begun and a lot of people have something to prove.