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08/25/07 7:35 PM ET

Notes: Rays' fielders having success

Maddon praises team's defense as something to look out for

ST. PETERSBURG -- With the Rays out of contention, manager Joe Maddon was asked what Rays fans could watch for on the field that would be worthwhile for the rest of the season.

As usual, Maddon brought a healthy dose of enthusiasm toward his assessment.

"First of all, look at the overall performance of some of our position players at this point, the types of years they're having," Maddon said. "That really speaks well for the future. Look at Carlos [Pena], Brendan [Harris], Aki [Iwamura]; you can look at what [Josh] Wilson is doing and the entire outfield. I think as a group on the field we're showing some nice progress this year."

Maddon said there are areas where the Rays' hitters have "got to get better" and elaborated.

"Our numbers with runners on third," Maddon said. "Our situational hitting in general has to get better. But as a group I'm seeing a lot of improvement on pure hitting skills on the entire group over the same period of time."

Maddon is optimistic about the overall direction of the team's pitching.

"Pitching wise, you're seeing [Scott Kazmir] and [James Shields] developing into this really wonderful one-two punch that can really beat anybody, so we're growing the kind of people that can pitch and win big games in tough environments."

Maddon cited Edwin Jackson as another reason for a baseball fan to want to come to Tropicana Field.

"You look where Edwin Jackson is going," Maddon said. "If he can improve the rest of the season -- I'm not saying throwing a shutout every time -- but going out there and pitching with this kind of consistency, he also gives you something to be excited about for next year's starting rotation."

And while the Rays' bullpen has been a lightning rod for disaster for much of the season, Maddon likes the current roster of relievers.

"Bullpen wise, we probably have the most professional, strong bullpen we've had since I've been here with [Gary] Glover and [Dan] Wheeler, and Al [Reyes]," Maddon said. "I think [Scott] Dohmann's done a really good job. [Juan] Salas has thrown well. [Brian] Stokes, more recently has been throwing the ball better. We still have to get [Jon] Switzer more opportunities. I think by far since I've been here this is the best group of relief pitchers we've had."

Season-ticket holders show: Rays players mixed with the team's season-ticket holders prior to Saturday's game, signing autographs, posing for photos, and generally enjoying the chance to mingle with the fans.

Of note among the revelers were three fans designated as "Johns for Jonny." One of the fans identified himself as John the Baptist, another as John Belushi, and the other as John Grizzly Adams; each of the three dressed accordingly.

"I like the effort," Gomes said.

September call-ups: Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice-president of baseball operations, recently talked about September and the prospect of call-ups when rosters can be expanded for the final month of the season.

"We called up a number of guys last year," Friedman said. "And for us it's important to make sure we're not just calling them up for the sake of doing it, but players who can actually participate and have a role on the team the last month. We need to talk internally about what we want to accomplish in September. What we want to do with the pitching staff and everything else, how many guys we want to call up for the bullpen. So we'll figure that out."

Friedman and Maddon have had conversations during the past week to discuss the players who might be joining the team. Triple-A Durham's status for making the playoffs could delay any call-ups.

Decisions are made on "an individual basis where it's concerning who deserves a September call-up," Friedman said. "And it also has to be coupled with being able to work that player in and being able to get him some exposure and some playing time."

Up next: The Rays will close out their four-game series on Sunday against the A's Sunday afternoon in a 1:40 p.m. ET contest. Right-hander Andy Sonnanstine (2-9, 6.53) will start for the Rays and will be opposed by right-hander Dan Haren (14-4, 2.66).

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.