09/30/11 10:07 PM ET
Mired in skid, Jennings dropped to eighth
By Bill Chastain and Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
Jennings entered the playoffs riding an 0-for-26 skid in his past seven games. The decision allowed shortstop Sean Rodriguez to start in the leadoff spot for the fourth time this year.
Maddon is optimistic the move will jump-start his club's offense and allow Jennings to get into a comfort zone at the bottom of the order.
"Desmond has been struggling a bit lately," Maddon said. "Obviously he's like three for almost the last 40 I believe it is. I just want to take a little pressure off him right there, get him into the eighth hole and just have him relax a bit and see if that just gets him going in the right direction again."
Jennings became one of the breakout stars on a young Rays team during the second half of the year. He made his season debut on July 23 and proceeded to hit .333 with eight home runs, 20 RBIs and 14 stolen bases through the month of August.
But the results began to dip during the final month of the year. The 24-year-old rookie hit just .160 with an on-base percentage of .258 in the club's last 26 games.
Friday night marked the first time this year Jennings started somewhere other than the leadoff spot, but the Alabama native said before the game that he understood the move.
"I was struggling," Jennings said. "I haven't been hitting, so moving me down in the order is probably smart. I haven't been getting on base."
Maddon also said the move was made because C.J. Wilson was getting the start for Texas. Rodriguez hit .273 (38-for-139) this year against lefties compared to .192 (45-for-234) against right-handed pitching.
If the decision pays off, it could allow Tampa Bay to get more runners on base for No. 3 hitter Evan Longoria.
"Sean Rodriguez does a pretty good job against left-handed pitchers in general," Maddon said. "And at the end of the day, the big concern is to get people on in front of Longo. So B.J. [Upton] has been doing that. If we get Sean to get on base and just set the table for Longo, that's always what we try to do."
The move isn't considered a permanent one, and Jennings could find himself back at the top of the order against right-handers.
Jennings, who appeared in two games during last year's ALDS against Texas, hit .259 with 10 homers and 25 RBIs in 63 regular-season games this year.
"Hopefully this will shake things up a little bit and get him back to the top where he belongs," Maddon said. "But for right now, I have been watching him the last several days, and it's been a struggle for him.
"You don't want to bury people. You don't want people to get emotionally distraught. Let's take a little pressure off him right now, get him going again and put him back up on the top of the batting order."
Rays put four rookie hurlers on ALDS roster
ARLINGTON -- The Rays announced their roster for the American League Division Series on Friday, and Jeff Niemann and Dan Johnson were the most notable faces not making the cut.
The composition of the roster includes four rookies on Tampa Bay's pitching staff, but several players were involved in last year's divisional clash against Texas.
Niemann was a notable omission from the staff, as the Rays opted for younger arms in the shortened rotation and in the bullpen. Matt Moore, who has made one career start, got the ball in Game 1, and he'll be flanked by James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson.
Niemann had a rough time in his start Saturday night, when he pitched just one inning against the Blue Jays. What manager Joe Maddon saw that night played into his decision.
"Niemann is just not quite 100 percent yet," Maddon said. "I know we talked about that after the last start. I didn't like the way he was throwing the ball early in the game. Under different circumstances, we probably could have left him in that game or might even be included right now.
"But I still don't think he's at 100 [percent], and we think it is wise to get him 100 percent well in case we do need him. And if he is 100 percent, man, I feel really good about him. I can just tell when he's not right. We all can. It is not just me. With him, we just thought it was better to keep him out for right now. Keep working in the training room and hopefully get to the next round and make another decision."
The Rays have three catchers -- Kelly Shoppach, Jose Lobaton and John Jaso -- on their ALDS roster, and they opted to include five outfielders. Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce and B.J. Upton will be joined by Sam Fuld and Desmond Jennings for the ALDS.
Tampa Bay's six infielders are first baseman Casey Kotchman, second baseman Ben Zobrist, shortstop Reid Brignac, third baseman Evan Longoria and multi-positional players Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson, who hit just .194 in 183 at-bats this season.
Dan Johnson, who hit the memorable pinch-hit homer against the Yankees Wednesday night, was not included on the roster, either. Maddon said that was one of the final decisions made in a one-hour meeting that took place Thursday. That call came down to the Rays wanting to keep three catchers so they could remain more flexible in that spot.
"The discussion was Dan Johnson vs. the catchers. That's what it came down to," Maddon said. "Because we felt that Elliot was very important to be there based on what we do and how we do it. And I don't want to use one of our pinch-hitters as a pinch-runner. I don't have to do that. ... [Elliot Johnson] is kind of the joker in the deck right there. ... We wanted to be able to cover all the pinch-hitting spots, too."
Outfielder Brandon Guyer, utility man Russ Canzler and left-hander Alex Torres remained behind, participating in Port Charlotte at the Rays' Instructional League to remain sharp in the event they are needed.
Davis shifts from rotation to bullpen for ALDS
ARLINGTON -- Manager Joe Maddon opted to remove Wade Davis from the rotation in part because he felt Davis would air out his fastball a little more in the bullpen and would be more resilient than Game 1 starter Matt Moore.
"I like the idea of Wade Davis being in the bullpen, because of the [Rangers'] predominant right-handed lineup," Maddon said. "This gives us a chance to use Wade on more than one occasion, and the thought of putting Wade in the bullpen always intrigued me."
"This is a good ballclub," said Davis. "The have a lot of righties. Any chance I can contribute I'm fine with."
Davis said there was no getting over any feelings of disappointment.
"I think at this point right now, we just want to win," Davis said. "I knew what it was coming down to and they were going to make a decision. I'm happy with it, and I'm going to go do what I've got to do out there."
Although he has been a starter his entire career, he did pitch out of the Rays' bullpen five times over the past four years during Spring Training.
"Take the same approach, go out there and try to get guys out," Davis said.
"I think I'll be able to go a little harder, but at the same time, keep it under control. Everything should be good."
Lucky charm Astro stolen from Rays' dugout
ARLINGTON -- Sometime during the middle innings of the Rays' 9-0 win over the Rangers, a fan at Rangers Ballpark took David Price's good luck charm, Astro.
Astro is the left-hander's pet French bulldog. On Aug. 21, the Rays had a giveaway in which Price was dressed in action hero tights and paired with a depiction of Astro. Since then, Price has made a practice of putting Astro's figurine on the top of the dugout so he can watch the games. In some cases, Price has even built a makeshift dog house out of a paper cup to protect the figurine from the weather.
After lifting the figurine, the fan that made the heist was escorted from the ballpark, but the figurine was not recovered. Alas, Price turned to Matt Moore, the rookie left-hander who saved the day on the field and also saved the day where Astro was concerned as he came up with a spare.
"Matt Moore saved the day twice," said James Shields, who will start for the Rays on Saturday.
Added Price about Moore: "He's my favorite big league player."
The Rays are 23-14 since the unveiling of the Price/Astro figurines, which prompted a question to Price regarding whether Astro brought luck to the team.
"I think he does; we've been playing pretty well since [the giveaway]," Price said.
And dognapping was not the right move for Rangers fans, according to Price.
"That stuff is bad karma," Price said.
A side note to any fans contemplating a repeat performance, Price has a limitless supply of the Astro figurines.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.