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Bartlett's bat blazing in April

Bartlett's bat blazing in April

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ask Jason Bartlett about his sweet-swinging April, and he doesn't talk about anything but basic baseball.

"I'm just feeling good," said the Tampa Bay shortstop. "Everybody goes through a stretch where they are feeling good, and mine just happens to be the first month. I'm just going to try to keep it going."

Bartlett's .364 average entering Monday night's game in the Metrodome -- his former stomping grounds -- is the third-best opening month in team history, behind the .368 of Rocco Baldelli in 2003 and the .365 of B.J. Upton in '07. His average is the seventh-best among all shortstops in April since 1998. Since last year's All-Star break, Bartlett leads all shortstops with a .340 mark.

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Of Bartlett's 24 hits, 19 are singles. That is fine for now with Rays manager Joe Maddon, who sees a more confident Bartlett this year, and sees extra bases in the future.

"[Sunday], he hit a chopper over the first baseman's head, and the third baseman made a great play early on one down the line. He's starting to look like his old self, spraying it all over the place," Maddon said. "What's gonna happen next, my prediction is, you're going to see balls start rolling to the gap and you're going to see a couple of more homers.

"He's getting that nice flat slashing kind of swing that he has working for him, and when he has that going on, the ball gets more on a line."

Acquired along with Matt Garza for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris before last season, Bartlett immediately improved the Rays' infield, but he eventually also proved to be more adept than advertised at the plate.

With one year of experience in Tampa Bay, Bartlett is much more at ease than a year ago, when he still was adjusting to his new surroundings.

"I'm not trying to do as much. I'm not trying to hit that three-run home run with nobody on [base] this year," Bartlett said. "It's just a matter of feeling more comfortable and just knowing what guys are going to try and do to me, and going with that approach."

After decreasing his strike zone as the 2008 season went on, he hit .353 in the season's final two months, a possible foreshadowing of this year's success.

Not to be confused with Carlos Pena or Evan Longoria as Rays deep threats, Bartlett hit two home runs in the season's opening week, but he's had none since.

"They were line-drive home runs, so that's a good sign for me, when I'm not hitting the ball in the air and I'm hitting line drives," he said.

Bartlett also has been using his speed to more of an advantage. His seven infield hits entering Monday trailed just Carl Crawford for the lead in the Major Leagues. Bartlett also has five stolen bases.

His efforts have led to the best batting average on the team, from the No. 9 spot, not exactly a common occurrence in the big leagues. Yet, Bartlett has no desire to move up in the batting order, even though his teammates are struggling at the plate.

"If it helps the team, so be it, but right now we've got guys up there that if they keep swinging it, they're going to perform," Bartlett said. "It's just a matter of timing with that. We know what they can do. I don't think you should hit the panic button."

Mike Cook is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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