Maddon considers batting Upton seventh

Maddon considers batting Upton seventh

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If everyone remains healthy between now and Opening Day, the batting order Rays manager Joe Maddon employed for Saturday's game against the Red Sox could be the one he employs during the season, save for a tweak here and there.

Among the features of Saturday's lineup was B.J. Upton hitting seventh in the order.

"I've often thought, looking at the seventh hitter in an American League lineup, if he's pretty prodigious, that really speaks to a strong lineup," said Maddon, who explained that thought first hit him when he saw slugger David Justice hitting seventh for the Indians.

"I thought, 'My goodness, they're pretty good,'" Maddon said. "So if you can get a pretty good hitter hitting seventh in an American League lineup, you've got a pretty good lineup."

Last season, Upton went from hitting leadoff in the order to the ninth spot, which didn't sit well with him initially. Maddon said he doesn't have to sell Upton on the idea of hitting seventh.

"No, I think if he just looks at our lineup, he knows," Maddon said. "I mean, of course he can move up in the lineup, there's no question he can. For my money, he can hit from one through five. He should be a one-through-five hitter."

But Maddon pointed out that what's up in front of Upton is a tough group to crack.

"With our group right now, we're talking about [possibly] putting [Evan Longoria] fifth, then it really speaks to the six and seven guys still being pretty good guys," Maddon said. "He can still be six and someone else seven. That's for right now, and what happened [Saturday]. And that's what I'm thinking about.

"But I like what B.J.'s doing a lot. He's really shortened things up. He's getting his foot down in time. He's getting ready to hit better, and I like what he's doing."

Jason Bartlett again will serve as the leadoff hitter after thriving in that slot in 2009. Maddon addressed why Bartlett enjoyed such great success in the top spot.

"The biggest difference I thought I saw was he became more patient at the plate," Maddon said. "When he went from nine to one, he then knew that he had to get on base, and I think he went back to what he was doing a couple of years ago with Minnesota, where he became a little more patient at the plate."

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Maddon stressed that Bartlett did not expand his strike zone on sliders away like a lot of hitters are prone to do.

"He still did on occasion, but not with the frequency that he did in the nine hole," Maddon said. "And with that, you're going to hit better. If you're not expanding your strike zone, you have an organized strike zone, you're going to hit to your abilities."

Carl Crawford will again hit in the second spot, but the configuration of the three, four and five spots will continue to percolate in Maddon's mind for a while longer. On Saturday, Longoria hit third, Carlos Pena hit fourth and Ben Zobrist hit fifth.

Zobrist had a .405 on-base percentage in 2009, so Maddon said he likes the idea of Bartlett, Crawford and Zobrist all potentially being on base for Pena and Longoria. Maddon also noted that Pena is a pretty sure bet for the cleanup spot, because if he decides to have Zobrist bat third, that would mean the lineup would go in order, from the top spot: right-handed hitter, left-handed, switch-hitter, left-handed (Pena), and right-handed (Longoria). And the left-right versatility would remain intact, with Longoria hitting third and Zobrist hitting fifth.

"There's going to be that balance," Maddon said. "Carlos breaks it up somehow either way we go. ... I think Carlos belongs in the middle of those three guys."

Pat Burrell hit sixth Saturday and could easily flip-flop with Upton and hit seventh, setting up the final two spots to be filled by the catcher and right fielder. The Dioner Navarro/Kelly Shoppach catching platoon will likely fill the eighth spot, leaving the Gabe Kapler/Matt Joyce right-field platoon to round out the batting order.

"I still think the order's going to roll pretty good coming around from the bottom to the top again," Maddon said. "We're still going to be pretty firm there."

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