ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' clubhouse was eerily quiet when it opened before Friday's game against Boston, with just a few pitchers sitting by their lockers.
That's because manager Joe Maddon and hitting coach Derek Shelton held a meeting with Rays hitters to discuss "hitting theory" in an attempt to get the team refocused after limping out to a .232 average in the first half of the season.
"We're always in search of making things better somehow," Maddon said. "We just tried to pinpoint some of the items we think we need to get better with through some ideas and thoughts with the players."
Maddon said the team's goal is to still win the American League East, not just a Wild Card spot.
He added that in order to get better at the plate, his players have to have a strong mindset.
"I want them to come to their own conclusions, their own answers regarding what's not going right for them individually or us as a team," Maddon said. "By giving them different things to think about, hopefully the answers are gonna come from within. ... That's the purpose of these conversations, to motivate hitting."
Maddon said he will meet with his pitchers on Saturday.
Niemann optimistic he can return in August
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann, who is out with a broken leg, is still optimistic he can return to the field in August.
The big righty said he played catch from 90 feet Friday and wants to begin running whenever the training staff will allow him to.
"We're making progress," Niemann said. "I wish I could report we could run three miles right now -- it's not like that -- but we're making progress each day."
While he still isn't able to run, he is keeping his cardio up by going on an elliptical machine, bike or spending time in the pool. After he can effectively run, the next step will be to throw off the mound. Niemann said he then believes things can progress quickly from there and will have a better idea of a time frame, with a hopeful return date in August.
"That's what we're hoping for, and whatever we gotta do to make that happen, we're gonna try to do that," Niemann said. "As far as we can see, that's the best thing we can project at this point in time. ... They told me August, and that's great, it's not September."
The injury, which happened when he took a line drive off the leg against Toronto, has kept Niemann out since May 14. Due to his 6-foot-9 height and big frame, the leg has taken a bit longer to heal, which he said he's become used to.
"It's just what we have to live with every day," Niemann joked. "Getting into certain cars, ducking under doors, it's what we do. It's true, it definitely plays a role. Things are a little bit different when you've got somebody that's 6-foot-9 and the injury is in the ankle. It's probably a little different to somebody who's not 6-foot-9."
Rays don't expect any drama against Red Sox
ST. PETERSBURG -- When Red Sox pitcher Franklin Morales last faced Luke Scott and the Rays, things got a little heated.
The southpaw delivered five straight fastballs to Scott, with the final one hitting him in the leg, which caused both benches to clear in a May 25 matchup at Fenway Park.
After the game, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was not happy about the plunking, wondering who put out the "hit," and Boston manager Bobby Valentine brushed it off, suggesting it was a "Ghost of Fenway Past" that caused the incident.
Morales took the mound against the Rays in the opening game of the weekend series at Tropicana Field on Friday with Scott, who says he's since looked past the hit-by-pitch, batting seventh as the designated hitter.
"Water under the bridge, I've moved on," Scott said. "It happened and today's a new day. [We're] facing a very good baseball team. Going to go out there and try to find a way to win."
Scott had also been hit twice previously against Red Sox pitchers earlier in the season, but he said he just has to focus on what he can control and not worry about how Boston pitchers may approach the series.
"All I can do is speak for myself," Scott said. "I try to play the game with class. I respect all of my opponents, and that's just how I go about my business."
Maddon said he's also forgotten the incident and won't cause any problems unless provoked.
"I'm pretty good at dropping things and I think we are as a group also," Maddon said. "I really believe we have not instituted any of the discrepancies that we've gotten into. We definitely will respond, but under these circumstances, I'm sure if you asked them, they've forgotten also."
Valentine appears to have also moved on, saying he didn't expect any issues in the series and added, "I don't care, it's not a concern of mine."
Outside of any previous altercations, Boston has had a slight advantage over Tampa Bay in 2012, leading the season series 5-4 entering Friday.
Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.