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Rays hitters trying to avoid fly balls

Rays hitters trying to avoid fly balls

OAKLAND -- Dioner Navarro has struggled on offense this season; Jason Bartlett has not. Rays manager Joe Maddon believes the fate of both is in the air, literally.

Navarro, who hit .295 in 2008, went into Sunday's action hitting .190 with one home run and two RBIs. Maddon attributed those results to one reason only.

"Too many fly balls, too many popups," Maddon said. "He's hitting the ball in the air way too much. He's much better on the line. We talked to him about that the other day. I'd like to think giving him a day off [Saturday] might get him back on track."

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Maddon complimented Navarro for being in his best shape since he came to the Rays in a 2006 trade with the Dodgers, so conditioning has had nothing to do with Navarro's slump.

"Technique-wise, I thought, hitting-wise, he was not using his regular mechanics," Maddon said. "He was the other night, so we'll see how that works out. If a guy is doing everything right physically and it's not happening, then it could be something else. But he wasn't. He was off physically with his approach at the plate. I think he'll get away from the fly balls."

At the other end of the spectrum from Navarro is Bartlett, who entered Sunday's game hitting .365 with two home runs and five RBIs, which Maddon attributed to "no fly balls."

"Just think about his outs," Maddon said. "His outs have not been popups, and I really think that makes a difference for him. Most hitters, guys have just enough power to be a bad hitter, 'Oh, I just missed it.' You just missed it all year, and you end up with three or four home runs and 50 or so fly balls to slightly deep outfield.

"Fly balls to center field with most small hitters are devastating. Fly balls to center field are nothing but outs. And I don't know that hitters really think of it in those terms or not. And that's something you can change just by thinking about it. You can change your swing by saying, 'I'm not going to hit a fly ball to center field.' You can do that. So I think the biggest difference with him to this point is less fly balls out."

Bartlett hit just one home run in 2008, but hit home runs in back-to-back games this season, which initially concerned Maddon. However, Bartlett did not fall into the trap of trying to hit more home runs.

"We say to him almost every day [to stay out of the air], and he's starting to get it," Maddon said. "He's capable of hitting .300 if he doesn't hit it in the air."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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