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Rays' offense moving in positive direction

Rays' offense moving in positive direction

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Don't get Joe Maddon wrong. The Rays' skipper was thrilled with his offense's performance on Thursday night, when Tampa Bay racked up 13 runs on 18 hits with one of the best right-handers -- Josh Beckett -- on the mound for the Red Sox.

But Maddon, like most managers, doesn't want to put too much stock into one game -- especially in April.

So the question now is: How will it carry over?

"Everybody always wants to heap a lot more per game," Maddon said.

"Now, all of a sudden, of course, we're no longer flat, because we hit the ball. All of that stuff is, I think, sometimes overblown. During the course of a long season, you're going to go through some bad moments. And to me the important part is how you handle the bad moments, and how you interact while the bad moments are going on."

There were nothing but good moments on Thursday as the Rays clobbered the Red Sox. And although it was just one game, several steps in the right direction were made by the offense.

Going into the game, Tampa Bay was 12th in the American League with a .260 batting average and was mustering just 4.4 runs per game. The Rays were also coming off a nine-game road trip that saw them hit .251 and sport just a .239 batting average with two outs.

The Rays' situational hitting finally woke up on Thursday, though, as they went 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position, and six players put up multihit games.

One of those players was leadoff hitter B.J. Upton, who did it for just the second time this season after entering the game batting .158 in 15 contests.

Prior to the game, Maddon said that when Upton gets going, the rest of the offense should follow suit. And that was especially the case in the opener of a four-game series against the Red Sox.

"We just have to do a better job of driving in runs [with timely hitting]," Maddon said. "Just a better approach [on Thursday] against a very good pitcher. And, again, we've done this a couple of times. We're looking for the carryover thing rather than the feast-or-famine kind of offense. But I like the approach."

Evan Longoria said before the game that it was the offense that needed to step up -- not a pitching staff that had put up a 4.70 ERA going into Thursday. True to his words, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year led the charge by going 3-for-5 with his sixth home run of the year and a three-run double that put Tampa Bay on the board in the third inning.

But even though Longoria won't shy away from taking responsibility, he doesn't put the onus squarely on his shoulders.

"I know that, as the No. 3 hitter, I have to drive in runs, and when guys get in scoring position, it's my job to get them in," Longoria said. "But we've got Carlos [Pena] and Pat [Burrell] and everybody else. Last year we had guys drive in runs from the eight- and nine-spot, so there's no one particular guy that feels the pressure.

"I feel like when this team offensively is going good, we can put guys on base and drive in runs from any spot in the lineup."

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (0-3, 7.78 ERA)
Sonnanstine allowed seven runs on 10 hits against the A's on Sunday afternoon to take his third loss. When he's going well, he is a master of deception, employing an array of pitches that he can throw from all different angles. But he has struggled to find his stride thus far in 2009. He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in six career starts against the Red Sox, and he's 8-9 with a 5.13 ERA in 26 career starts at Tropicana Field.

BOS: RHP Justin Masterson (2-0, 2.70 ERA)
Masterson continues to get the job done in whatever role the Red Sox need him to fill. This will be his third start since Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the disabled list. Masterson won both of his first two turns, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing one earned run each time. He has pitched six times against the Rays in his career, including one start, going 1-2 with a 5.28 ERA. At Tropicana Field, he is 0-2 with a 7.11 ERA.

Tidbits
Matt Garza's 18 straight batters retired to start the game on Thursday was the most in franchise history, beating Sonnanstine's performance against the Mariners on Aug. 7, 2008, by one hitter. With six hitless innings, Garza is the third-closest Rays pitcher to a no-hitter, trailing Dewon Brazelton (2004) and Tony Saunders (1999) -- each of whom pitched 7 2/3 hitless innings. ... Reliever Chad Bradford (recovering from right elbow surgery) threw a successful bullpen session, and Maddon said that his next step will be to throw live batting practice on Sunday, and then probably Tuesday. ... Backup catcher Shawn Riggans (right shoulder tendinitis) said that he'll start playing rehab games soon and would like to come off the disabled list by the time the Rays play their series finale in Boston on May 10. ... On Friday the Rays will debut their new alternate jerseys. ... Prior to Thursday's game, Jeff Niemann received the 2009 Al Lopez Award for the top rookie in Spring Training. Presenting the award was Al Lopez III, the grandson of the Tampa-born Hall of Fame catcher/manager. Niemann went 2-1 with a 6.32 ERA in six Grapefruit League appearances.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

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

On television
• Sun Sports

On radio
• WDAE 620

Up next
• Saturday: Rays (Jeff Niemann, 2-2, 4.43) vs. Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 2-1, 1.86), 7:08 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Rays (James Shields, 2-2, 3.74) vs. Red Sox (Brad Penny, 2-0, 8.66), 1:38 p.m. ET
• Monday: Rays (Scott Kazmir, 3-2, 5.40) vs. Orioles (Adam Eaton, 1-3, 7.17), 7:08 p.m. ET

Alden Gonzalez 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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