Mired in skid, Jennings dropped to eighth

Mired in skid, Jennings dropped to eighth

ARLINGTON -- Manager Joe Maddon opted to move the struggling Desmond Jennings down to the No. 8 spot in the batting order for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Rangers on Friday.

Jennings entered the playoffs riding an 0-for-26 skid in his past seven games. The decision allowed shortstop Sean Rodriguez to start in the leadoff spot for the fourth time this year.

Maddon is optimistic the move will jump-start his club's offense and allow Jennings to get into a comfort zone at the bottom of the order.

"Desmond has been struggling a bit lately," Maddon said. "Obviously he's like three for almost the last 40 I believe it is. I just want to take a little pressure off him right there, get him into the eighth hole and just have him relax a bit and see if that just gets him going in the right direction again."

Jennings became one of the breakout stars on a young Rays team during the second half of the year. He made his season debut on July 23 and proceeded to hit .333 with eight home runs, 20 RBIs and 14 stolen bases through the month of August.

But the results began to dip during the final month of the year. The 24-year-old rookie hit just .160 with an on-base percentage of .258 in the club's last 26 games.

Friday night marked the first time this year Jennings started somewhere other than the leadoff spot, but the Alabama native said before the game that he understood the move.

"I was struggling," Jennings said. "I haven't been hitting, so moving me down in the order is probably smart. I haven't been getting on base."

Maddon also said the move was made because C.J. Wilson was getting the start for Texas. Rodriguez hit .273 (38-for-139) this year against lefties compared to .192 (45-for-234) against right-handed pitching.

If the decision pays off, it could allow Tampa Bay to get more runners on base for No. 3 hitter Evan Longoria.

"Sean Rodriguez does a pretty good job against left-handed pitchers in general," Maddon said. "And at the end of the day, the big concern is to get people on in front of Longo. So B.J. [Upton] has been doing that. If we get Sean to get on base and just set the table for Longo, that's always what we try to do."

The move isn't considered a permanent one, and Jennings could find himself back at the top of the order against right-handers.

Jennings, who appeared in two games during last year's ALDS against Texas, hit .259 with 10 homers and 25 RBIs in 63 regular-season games this year.

"Hopefully this will shake things up a little bit and get him back to the top where he belongs," Maddon said. "But for right now, I have been watching him the last several days, and it's been a struggle for him.

"You don't want to bury people. You don't want people to get emotionally distraught. Let's take a little pressure off him right now, get him going again and put him back up on the top of the batting order."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.