Notes: Navarro on a roll at the plate
After first-half struggles, young Rays catcher coming up big
BALTIMORE -- Dioner Navarro probably didn't enjoy the first half of the season too much.
The 23-year-old Rays catcher, who's played parts of the past three seasons in the big leagues, got some real playing time this season, but struggled at the plate early, batting just .177 in the first half. Things have changed since the All-Star break, as Navarro has batted .272 since then and got the game-winning hit in Wednesday's 5-4 victory over the Orioles.
Navarro had just one homer and 13 RBIs before the break. But since then, he's banged out five homers and 21 RBIs and raised his average to .208. Navarro has gotten ever hotter of late, batting .310 over 22 games since July 27.
The game-winning hit against the Orioles came in the top of the 12th, when he lined a shot off the right-field wall to give the Rays their second come-from-behind victory in two nights.
"Every time you get a hit to help the team win the game ... that helps," Navarro said. "I think the confidence [becomes] more than what it has [been]."
Navarro wasn't in the starting lineup for Thursday's finale against the Orioles as Josh Paul got the call.
Building momentum: The Rays have been playing much better lately, winning six of their last eight and scoring 61 runs in the process entering Thursday's game.
They're also getting much better pitching, like the four-run, eight-inning effort from starter James Shields on Wednesday. Shields said the Rays are starting to put some things together that could help the team in 2008.
"This is probably our best month of the year, and hopefully we can end it strong," Shields said. "Hopefully we can continue to do that through September and then going into next season."
Manager Joe Maddon said he wants his young team to keep building the confidence that winning squads need. The Rays are starting to show more of that in the final weeks of this season.
"I just see an overall change in attitude," Maddon said. "We're getting to the point now where we believe we can win every night. The starting pitching has gotten better, the bullpen has gotten better, our defense has gotten better. We're starting to get that vibe. We're starting to believe we can win these things late; we can beat these people."
Winning on the road-finally: The victory in Wednesday's game gave the Rays their first road series win in over two months.
Tampa Bay had lost 10 series and split one more since taking two of three from the Marlins in early June. But it clearly wasn't a topic of much conversation in the Rays' clubhouse.
When asked about he felt about breaking the streak following Wednesday's win, Maddon looked surprised.
"I didn't know about that," he said.
Milestones: Starting pitcher Scott Kazmir needs only 11 strikeouts to become the sixth pitcher since 2000 to reach 200 in a season at age 23 or younger.
Kazmir, who already has three of the Rays' top five marks in strikeouts for a season, came closer to the 200-whiff mark when fanning 13 in his last start, a 14-3 win over the A's.
At this point, Kazmir also ranks seventh in baseball history for strikeouts by left-handers by the age of 24. He's got 567, behind Don Gullett (615). Frank Tanana leads everyone with 865.
The first: Shortstop Josh Wilson belted his first Major League home run to lead off the third inning, just over the center-field fence at Camden Yards.
Sweep, sweep, sweep: The Rays went for their first road sweep of the season in Thursday's game with the Orioles.
In fact, a victory would give the Rays their first road sweep since they did it against the Indians on Aug. 12-14, 2005. It's also been almost two years since Tampa Bay has taken three straight on the road. The last time that took place was Sept. 25-26, 2005.
Callups: Maddon said the Rays might call up one or two players when the rosters expand on Sept. 1.
Triple-A Durham or Double-A Montgomery are both in first place, so Maddon said they'll be making some decisions in the next few days.
"There's a couple things we'd like to do, but we're going to wait," the skipper said. "If something were to happen, I'm guessing possibly one or two [would be called up]. We may fill in a couple of more guys afterwards."
Coming up: Andy Sonnanstine (3-9, 6.38 ERA) will start Friday's 7:05 p.m. ET opener of the weekend series with the Yankees. He's won two of his last three starts and will meet New York rookie Phil Hughes (2-2, 5.35 ERA) at Yankee Stadium.
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.