07/19/08 6:15 PM ET
Slumping Upton moved to No. 7 in order
Rays center fielder searching for stroke from last season
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
One of the team's expected power threats, Upton found himself in the No. 7 hole in the lineup on Saturday night for the first time all season.
The center fielder entered Saturday 8-for-42 over the Rays' past 11 games, including an 0-for-4 outing on Friday night.
"He's been trying to work on some new things," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I know it's going to work, but right now, I just think he's been putting way too much [pressure] on himself."
The Rays' third-year skipper said he had a brief conversation with Upton, in which he told him exactly that.
"For him to get back to where he had been, I just wanted him to understand to relax a little bit," Maddon said. "Go out there and play and have fun with this whole thing. Because skill-wise, his skill level is virtually unlimited."
Just 23 years old, Upton has already played in parts of three Major League seasons, assuming the role of the Rays' starting center fielder and No. 3 hitter this year.
Despite carrying a team-leading .380 on-base percentage into Saturday night's contest, Upton is in a 20-for-96 (.208) stretch since June 15 and has no concrete solutions.
"Obviously, I'm not swinging the bat well right now," Upton said. "Just not hitting the ball, period. That's it."
While Upton didn't think that batting third created extra pressure "in the first place," Maddon said he took the decision well.
The skipper was quick to point out that the move will be short-lived, with Upton's production the underlying factor.
"His stroke is going to come back," Maddon said. "You saw what he did last year. He's going to be able to do that for many years to come. I just thought that, for right now, it was the right thing to do.
Last season, Upton became the first Rays player to reach 20 home runs and 20 steals in the same season. He also hit .339 with runners in scoring position, the fourth-highest mark in club history.
Upton ended 2007 with his lowest batting average of the season, .300. This year, he's hitting .272 entering Saturday.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.