PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Rays center fielder B.J. Upton hit against live pitching Tuesday and appears to have his back problem behind him.
Upton, who has been nursing a lower back problem since last week's outfield collision with Desmond Jennings, took batting practice Tuesday morning. In the afternoon, he had two at-bats for Double-A Montgomery, walking and flying out to center field, and one at-bat for Triple-A Durham that saw him ground out to shortstop.
"I felt pretty good about the strides I made today," Upton said. "The biggest thing was seeing pitches. I saw enough pitches and had some good swings."
Upton was slated to have just two at-bats, but his at-bats for Montgomery came against a left-hander, so he asked hitting coach Derek Shelton for one more at-bat so he could go up against a right-hander, which he did for the Durham squad.
"I saw a number of pitches from him, so that was good," Upton said. "I'm moving in the right direction, so hopefully I can get out there [Wednesday]. But if not, no biggie, I like where I'm at right now. As long as we're making strides every day."
Also playing in Minor League games Tuesday while the Rays played the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla., were Carlos Pena, Jose Molina, Evan Longoria, Jeff Keppinger and Ben Zobrist.
-- Bill Chastain
Battling to regain job, Brignac slowed by injury
JUPITER, Fla. -- Reid Brignac had been faring pretty well at the plate in his bid to reclaim the Rays' starting shortstop job this spring, but a foot injury now has his Opening Day status in question.Brignac is dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. It's an inflammation of the tissue that supports the foot's arch. He received a cortisone injection Monday and will therefore be out of action for at least the next couple of days. "It's one of the most awkward injuries I've ever heard about," Tampa Bay manager Maddon said. "There's no definitive way to treat it. You can still run on it, and you're still going to be in pain. And then you have to wait for the sheath to rip in order for it to heal. So it's just a weird position." And it puts Brignac in a tough position. Because with a little more than two weeks to go before Opening Day, this injury could be enough to win the shortstop job for Sean Rodriguez.
"No doubt about it, it's bad timing," Brignac said. "But there's nothing I could have done about it. I was playing in a game when it happened. It's going to be a few more days. Once [the pain] is tolerable I can play with it." In the meantime, Sean Rodriguez, who got the start in Tuesday's game against the Marlins, is the leading man. Rodriguez was 4-for-16 with a double, entering Tuesday's game, and Maddon has been happy with his defensive play. Brignac, meanwhile, has hit .389 (7-for-18). "Both of them have been doing well," Maddon said. But if Brignac can't bounce back quickly from his foot issue, Rodriguez, who took over for a struggling Brignac last July, will get the starting nod again.
Davis' toughness impresses Maddon
JUPITER, Fla. -- Joe Maddon learned something about Wade Davis on Tuesday."The moral of the story," Maddon said, "is to hit him in the foot hard with a blunt object before he goes out to pitch." That's because everything seemed to click for Davis in the immediate aftermath of the sharp liner he took to the left ankle in the second inning against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. That shot went for a double off the bat of Donnie Murphy, and it gave the Marlins two runners in scoring position after a run had come across earlier in the inning. It also seemed to threaten Davis' availability, as the trainers scoped him out for a few moments. But in Davis' mind, he was never coming out. "It was numb for a little bit," he said, "but nothing to take me out." And for whatever reason, Davis was a different guy from that point forward. He went on to retire nine of the last 10 batters he faced, striking out five. The only batter he didn't retire in that span, Chris Coghlan, reached on a Matt Mangini error in the third and was retired on a Donovan Solano double-play ball. Davis, for the record, didn't think the injury scare had anything to do with it. "Before that point, I still felt good about how we were working together and how stuff was playing out," he said. "Just getting some momentum and getting into it is what we needed to do, for me personally. So it was really good to get some momentum and use everything I have." Davis needed this outing, as he is in a battle with Jeff Niemann for the fifth spot in the rotation, with the loser likely heading to the bullpen. Command had been an issue for Davis in his three previous appearances this spring, but in this five-inning affair, in which he allowed just a run on three hits with no walks and five strikeouts, he was on-point. And for whatever it's worth, Maddon said Davis' velocity increased from the mid- to upper-80s before the blow to the ankle and routinely hit 92 and 93 mph afterward. "He was entirely different after that ball hit him in the foot," Maddon said. "Really a great performance post-line drive in the foot."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.