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No. 9 hitters are proving to be no easy out

No. 9 hitters are proving to be no easy out

OAKLAND -- On some teams, No. 9 hitters are all but automatic outs.

On the Rays, they've become "X" factors, hitters who are playing a surprisingly big role in the team's attack.

Before Sunday, when no Rays managed a hit against the A's Dallas Braden in a 4-0 loss, the Rays' No. 9 hitters had been blistering the ball on this road trip.

In two starts against Seattle, both victories, Gabe Kapler went a combined 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a double.

Sean Rodriguez crushed a huge two-run double in the Rays' 4-1 victory over the A's on Friday night. Reid Brignac went 1-for-4 with a double during Saturday's 4-2 loss to Oakland. In a victory over Seattle on Tuesday, he went 1-for-4 and drove in a run. When Brignac pinch-hit for Kapler on Wednesday, he drilled an RBI double and scored a run.

Brignac, Rodriguez, Kapler, John Jaso, Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach, who's on the DL, have all had turns in the No. 9 hole.

There's been no letup for opposing pitchers when they get to the bottom of the Rays' batting order.

"Everybody now obviously has scouting reports," Rodriguez said before Sunday's game against the A's. "They can see what we've been doing, what we've done in the past. They know what we're capable of. I think that's what's paying a lot of dividends.

"They have to focus so much just on us that it's making them have to bear down through nine, as opposed to just maybe the middle of the lineup. One through nine, each pitcher we face knows they have to bear down."

Entering Sunday, Brignac was hitting .293 with 14 RBIs, tops among American League rookies. Jaso was hitting .314. Kapler took a three-game hitting streak into Sunday's start and was 3-for-8 with two RBIs on the road trip. Rodriguez was hitting just .208, but he had a pair of singles off reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, along with his key double off the A's Gio Gonzalez.

Rodriguez said the success Tampa Bay's No. 9 hitters are having is "a tribute to the way everybody works," and the result of having a talent-laden team.

"From one through nine, you've got a lot of ability here," Rodriguez said. "Guys who can hit, guys who can play and people really trying to stay focused, too, not letting what's going on, or how we're playing or where we're at, dictate how we're going to go out there and approach the game.

"I'm sure there's some kind of competition among us, but not anything big," he said of the No. 9 hitters. "We all want to do well, obviously, not just for purposes, basically, of who's the best nine hitter, but who's going to help the team win. It's really been paying off. That's what's beautiful."

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