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Rays relying on speed to produce runs

Rays relying on speed to produce runs

ST. PETERSBURG -- When Ozzie Guillen compared the Rays' runners to rabbits during Chicago's visit to Tropicana Field back in April, the White Sox skipper was adamant about keeping Tampa Bay's speed off the basepaths.

Fast forward to the end of July and Guillen's problem has become all too familiar to Rays opponents.

Tampa enters Wednesday's game with a Major League-leading 106 stolen bases and is on pace to swipe 175 bases during the regular season.

A big reason Tampa Bay has been able to tear up the basepaths has been the emergence of B.J. Upton, who has a team-leading 30 steals and has continued to extend his career-high mark.

"We got to put pressure on the [opposing] defense," Upton said. "I think that's a big part of our game. Putting pressure on those guys, constantly having guys in motion, and moving makes it a little bit tougher."

The 23-year-old Upton has certainly done his part as his speedy ways -- third in the league in stolen bases entering Wednesday -- have helped mask some of the Rays' offensive struggles of late.

"We got to try to find ways to manufacture runs, so running usually does that for you," Carl Crawford said. "Getting a man to third base with less than one out -- that's why you see B.J. running a lot. Whenever I get on, I'm going to start running more and whenever we get [Jason] Bartlett back, we are going to start running more. So it's just a way to try to start scoring more runs until the bats warm up."

Sidelined since July 3 with a right knee sprain, the speedy Bartlett is expected to be activated during the Rays' seven-game road trip, which starts on Thursday. The Rays' starting shortstop has 18 steals and led Minnesota in the category last season, going 23-for-26 in stolen-base attempts.

Crawford is second to Upton with 23 steals, and the four-time AL stolen-base king admits there is still much more to come.

"I haven't even really been stealing like I normally do," Crawford said. "So for us to be on pace just lets me know that a lot of guys are running."

The Rays are getting speed from unlikely players like Eric Hinske (seven steals) and Jonny Gomes (eight steals), and are on pace to shatter the club record of 151, set in 2005.

Manager Joe Maddon believes Gomes has good instincts on the bases, and despite Upton's 12 caught steals -- tops in the Majors -- the skipper doesn't plan on taking away the team's green light.

"I love the fact that [Upton] does not let getting thrown out intimidate him from getting thrown out the next time," Maddon said. "The more he does it, the better he's going to get. As he gets older, the more experience comes with it. So I think what you are seeing right now is a guy who is starting to figure that part of it out. He's picking better times right now."

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP James Shields (8-6, 3.69 ERA)
Shields continued his home dominance on Friday night, notching his eighth win this season, six of which have been at Tropicana Field. The 26-year-old right-hander tossed seven innings of one-run baseball -- allowing only a solo homer to Toronto's Adam Lind -- in the four-strikeout performance. Shields' best pitch has always been his changeup, but he also has a plus fastball and curve and he's added a cutter that has helped him throw inside to left-handers. He will be making his first start of the season against Oakland, a team he has traditionally fared well against. In four career starts, Shields is 2-1 with a 4.55 ERA.

OAK: LHP Greg Smith (5-8, 3.79 ERA)
Smith struggled Friday night against the Yankees and exited after just 3 2/3 innings. He allowed six earned runs on eight hits in the shortened outing. He fell into long at-bats to contribute to the high pitch count. The lefty threw 62 pitches through the first three innings. Smith walked five and struck out just one in the game. He is 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA against the Rays.

Tidbits
Prior to Monday's game, Gary Glover threw to several Rays batters and reported no tenderness from his left calf strain. The right-hander was placed on the 15-day disabled retroactive to July 11 and is expected to serve minimal time on the shelf. ... Rays ION televsion station will add the Aug. 8 game in Seattle. The contest has a 10:10 p.m. ET start time. ... Evan Longoria's three straight homers in three days was the second time the rookie has achieved the feat this season, with a knock in each game from June 24-26 vs. the Marlins.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN

On radio
• WHNZ 1250, WGES 680 (Español)

Up next
• Thursday: Rays (Matt Garza, 8-5, 3.68) at Royals (Gil Meche, 7-9, 4.55), 8:10 p.m. ET
• Friday: Rays (Edwin Jackson, 5-7, 4.25) at Royals (Brian Bannister, 7-8, 5.49), 8:10 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Rays (Scott Kazmir, 8-5, 2.80) at Royals (Luke Hochevar, 6-8, 5.47), 7:10 p.m. ET

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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