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02/22/09 4:35 PM EST

Baserunning a priority for Maddon

Rays manager wants his club to be best in baseball on basepaths

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Baserunning is a priority for Rays manager Joe Maddon.

"I want us to be considered the best baserunning team in baseball," Maddon said. "If I had one major goal, that would be it. I think a lot of wins are derived from that."

Maddon's philosophy for his team is to "err on the side of aggressiveness."

"Mental effort, physical effort, improved technique -- those are the three components of us getting better," Maddon said.

Maddon considers baserunning more than simply stealing bases.

"That's where people become confused," Maddon said. "I'm talking good to first. Good hard turns, cuts, taking the extra base. I want us to always be taking extra bases."

Conversely, Maddon wants the Rays to do the right things on defense to thwart the running game of opposing teams, such as not giving up the extra base, hitting the cutoff man, throwing to the right base and not forgetting the trail runner.

"Those are the parts of the game that bite you in one-run games," Maddon said. "Most of the time when the ball is hit in the gap, the trail runner doesn't run as hard, so if you're aware of the trail runner, there are times you are going to get him. And then that's less pitches for your pitcher, less runs to be scored. It all matters."

Maddon said the fundamentals of the running game have to be pounded into the minds of his players -- on offense and defense.

"Everybody hears it, it's just a matter of how significant you want to make it in regard to your approach, your philosophies, etc.," Maddon said.

Maddon wants to take advantage of having the Major and Minor Leaguers all together at the same complex by spreading a consistent and uniform message about the Rays' expectations for baserunning and baserunning defense.

"You listen to everyone," Rays shortstop prospect Reid Brignac said. "But you're definitely going to pay attention [when it's Maddon]."

Maddon delivered the same message when he worked in the Angels' organization.

"All of the instructional [league] things I used to run for the Angels in the '90s, I would tell the position players we had one main goal: to be the best baserunning team in the instructional league," Maddon said.

"So for years, we talked about that over there. And now we'll talk about that for years to come over here. There are so many things to be derived from it. It's an attitude. And I think it permeates the rest of your game."

Included in this spring's instruction is holding runners on base and pickoffs. To help facilitate a more authentic drill, Maddon has employed pitchers who have just finished their throwing work so their arms will be warm.

Maddon's face grew more animated than normal when he was asked how he measures effective baserunning.

"First of all, I like a good effort to first base," Maddon said. "I like tight cuts, not turns, cuts -- tight, all around the bases, guys who are always anticipating."

Advancing on balls in the dirt is another facet of good baserunning, and a subject dear to Maddon's heart.

"You see guys who advance on dirt balls easily," Maddon said. "They're really focused. They're really into each pitch. Willy Aybar is very good at that. For years, the Montreal Expos were the best at teaching how to advance on balls in the dirt. I can't get a good answer how they did it, because I've asked a ton of them.

"But you look at Vladimir [Guerrero], Orlando Cabrera, you look at Brad Fulmer, who was with the Angels at one time, all raised in the Expos organization -- great at advancing on balls in the dirt."

Maddon notes that knowing the players who have nice reactions to balls in the dirt is more of an observation, while he said the Rays actually have statistics to let them know other things happening on the basepaths.

"I'd say the most primary thing we've done in the past is first to third, second to home and first to home -- those are the three stats I would track when I was with the Angels," Maddon said. "The number of times you had an opportunity, number of times you succeeded. Those numbers are available."

In essence, a mentality needs to be changed in some players to re-program his instincts.

"There's a station-to-station mentality with a lot of guys," speedster Fernando Perez said. "It's not to say they're overtly being lazy. I just think there's a station-to-station mentality on the bases when you get bad reads and mediocre reads. And I think a lot of people just don't want to try it.

"It's an attitude thing. They just assume that they can't do it or assume that they're going to make a mistake. And that's kind of exactly what we don't want to do. We want to push the envelope."

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