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Rays tinkering with middle of batting order

Rays tinkering with middle of batting order

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Rays manager Joe Maddon tinkered with the middle of his batting order Saturday and had Ben Zobrist batting third, Evan Longoria hitting fourth and Carlos Pena hitting fifth.

Maddon said the lineup was partially a product of having back-to-back long road trips and a change in personnel -- the Rays played the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., on Friday -- but admitted he was intrigued with Zobrist, Longoria and Pena hitting 3-4-5 instead of Zobrist hitting third, Pena fourth and Longoria fifth as expected.

"I'm looking at it," Maddon said. "It's kind of an interesting way to go. I haven't 100 percent decided, but I like the formula."

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Maddon said he's more interested in the bottom half of the batting order, which is likely to feature B.J. Upton hitting sixth. Designated hitter Pat Burrell is likely to hit seventh, following by catcher Kelly Shoppach and second baseman Sean Rodriguez.

"I'm eager to see B.J. as much as anything," Maddon said. "I'm looking for him to continue to be doing what he's doing now. We're talking about a mechanical thing he's really getting down right now."

Upton, who hit just .241 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs last year following offseason labrum surgery, is having a good spring at the plate while making some adjustments. Entering Saturday's game, he was hitting .319 with three homers.

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"With him, I've always talked about it not being mental, but it's just physical with him," Maddon said. "He was just getting started too late [with his swing]. Now we have a real benchmark to look at and he has a feel. I really believe he's going to be able to sustain this for long. As long as he's able to do this, which I believe he will, he's going to hit well."

But with Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford at the top of the lineup, and Zobrist, Pena and Longoria hitting in some order at 3-4-5, Upton won't bat higher than sixth to start the season.

"Look at the five in front of him," Maddon said. "It's really a nice problem we've got going on right now. I really don't know. We'll see how it shakes out. I've often said he could hit anywhere, one through four or five. He'll be hitting sixth more likely than seventh. Anything is possible."

Maddon typically doesn't like the catcher batting ninth, choosing instead of have a faster player bat in front of the leadoff hitter. The manager said Saturday he might get away from that, which means Shoppach could be hitting ninth instead of eighth as expected.

Brian McTaggart 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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