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09/03/08 12:30 AM ET

Bartlett picking up for sidelined Rays

Tampa Bay (84-52) vs. New York (74-64), Wed., 7:10 p.m. ET

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon's incessant insistence that his club take things "one day at a time" is getting to be just that.


"I guess I have to become a little bit more creative with that [phrase]," Maddon said.

But the third-year skipper is hardly sorry about the results.

After all, it is Maddon-isms like this that have the American League East-leading Rays four games up on the Red Sox, vying for the first postseason appearance in franchise history.

One day at a time.

"It's just so true," Maddon said. "And [I'm] not getting away from it, because I believe it and I think our players believe it right now, too. I know that there's enough veteran leadership within that clubhouse now that the stuff that I'm not going to be able to address, there's other guys that shall. And it's not much more dramatic [or] romantic than that."

The approach may sound dull, but the Rays' winning ways have been anything but dull.

Despite injuries to Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Troy Percival -- who was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday -- Tampa Bay went 14-5 without its big three thanks to a dazzling team-wide effort. Nine Rays garnered a game-winning RBI in that 19-game span, which included series wins over elite AL squads like the Angels and White Sox.

And though Percival, the club's closer, is now back in the bullpen, the Rays' offense must continue to step up without the middle-of-the-order contributions of Longoria and Crawford.

Carlos Pena's six home runs and 19 RBIs in the past 20 games have been significant, but one of the club's most unheralded contributions has come from shortstop Jason Bartlett.

Predominantly the Rays' No. 9 batter, Bartlett went 2-for-4 out of the seven-hole on Tuesday and was 4-for-4 with his first home run of the season in Sunday's win over the Orioles.

Bartlett closed August with a .389 average, the best August average in Rays history and the second-best monthly average in the franchise history. Bartlett raised his season average 28 points during that stretch and is currently batting .281, his best mark since Opening Day.

"He's come a long way," Maddon said of Bartlett. "And here's the thing I'm looking at -- less fly balls. The home run [on Sunday] obviously is a fly ball, but if you watch his hits, [there are] a lot of hard ground balls between third and short. And then he's punching it to the right side."

Although Bartlett's homer on Sunday was his first long ball since Aug. 27, 2007, when he was a member of the Twins, Maddon isn't worried that the shortstop will get too starry-eyed.

"We've been on him about it," Maddon said. "That's the whole thing -- the home run can actually hurt [his swing], and we don't want that to impact him in a negative way. When he goes up there with that intent of line drives and ground balls, he's much better ... and he's been doing it for a few weeks now."

The Rays bats have assembled 10 or more hits in each of their past five games and will look to continue to swing a big stick -- and even the series -- in Wednesday's game against the Yankees.

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Edwin Jackson (11-8, 3.81 ERA)
Jackson picked up his career-high 11th win of the season against the Blue Jays on Thursday night, when he allowed just one run in seven innings. Jackson threw 70 of his 106 pitches for strikes and scattered six hits, striking out two, for his sixth win in seven starts. The young flamethrower is at his best when he is locating his 97-mph fastball, which sets up an array of other pitches, particularly his slider.

NYY: RHP Carl Pavano (2-0, 3.27 ERA)
Pavano delivered six impressive innings on Friday night to pick up his second win in as many starts, and his first at Yankee Stadium since 2005. He quieted the Blue Jays, holding them to one run and just three hits, issuing one walk and striking out one. The strikeout came against the final batter Pavano faced before exiting after 72 pitches. The right-hander said he had to work throughout the game to keep the ball low, but he retired 18 of the 22 batters he faced, including 12 straight hitters at one point.

Longoria (fractured right wrist) took ground balls prior to Tuesday night's game but did not take any swings. Maddon didn't not have an exact timetable for the third baseman's on Tuesday and said the club can't draw conclusions until Longoria gets in the cage. The Rays' skipper was unsure when that would be, as was Longoria. ... FOX has picked up the Rays-Twins game at Tropicana Field on Saturday, Sept. 20. Game time is set for 3:55 p.m. ET. ... With Fernando Perez and John Jaso called up -- and Percival activated -- the Rays' roster stood at 28 players (13 pitchers and 15 position players) on Tuesday. ... With a hit in the seventh inning of Tuesday's game, Akinori Iwamura has hit safely in 25 of the Rays' past 30 games. ... Trever Miller made his first two-inning appearance in more than two years on Tuesday night. The lefty specialist last went two innings on Aug. 3, 2006, as a member of the Astros. In Tuesday's loss, Miller tallied a season-high three strikeouts and did not allow a run.

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Up next
• Thursday: Rays (Scott Kazmir, 10-6, 3.13) vs. Yankees (Darrell Rasner, 5-9, 5.08), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Friday: Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 13-6, 4.61) at Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 17-9, 2.69), 7:07 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Rays (James Shields, 12-8, 3.66) at Blue Jays (Shaun Marcum, 8-6, 3.60), 1:07 p.m. ET

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.