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03/18/12 5:05 PM ET

Beckham among five Rays players reassigned

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Tim Beckham headed a list of five players cut by the Rays on Sunday afternoon following the team's 8-4 loss to the Red Sox.

Beckham was reassigned to Minor League camp, while Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa, Brandon Guyer and Stephen Vogt were optioned to Minor League camp.

Beckham, 22, was the top pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and has shown great improvement, according to Rays manager Joe Maddon.

"I was very impressed with him," Maddon said. "I believe he has Major League-caliber defense already. He's got to really work on his hitting a bit, and I'm not talking about mechanical stuff. He just needs to get more of a game plan from the plate perspective, understand how to attack pitchers better.

"And as he does that, he's going to be a big league ballplayer, because defensively, he's got a good idea on the bases, he really handles himself well as a person. I really believe he has Major League makeup. We just have to get his hitting in order, and that's going to take a little time."

Despite getting sent down, Beckham, who has been in Major League camp since 2009, can smell the big leagues.

"I feel close hitting," Beckham said. "I feel close at short. I feel [close] everywhere. ... I know I'm going to hit, I know the bat's going to come around. So I'm not worried about that at all."

Vogt being sent down narrowed the competition for the backup catcher's spot to Jose Lobaton and Chris Gimenez, with Robinson Chirinos still sitting out with a mild concussion.

Vogt opened eyes throughout camp with his offense, but he came up a little short defensively.

"We just have to work on his defense," Maddon said. "He's got to be able to catch more. Offensively, his bat is probably big league ready right now. We've got to make sure his defense is, too."

Upton close to returning, but Rays cautious

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- In the aftermath of Wednesday's outfield collision with Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton is getting closer to being ready to play.

"It's coming along," Upton said. "Kind of like a car accident -- it's not going to go away right away, as long as it's getting better every day."

The lingering problem is mostly in Upton's lower back.

"A little tight, trying to keep it loose," Upton said. "Not much else we can do."

Upton has not played since Wednesday. However, he did take some swings at the Rays' complex on Saturday under the supervision of head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield.

"Not bad," said Upton when asked how his swings went. "Probably not up to game speed right now, but I don't see it being a problem, especially with the off-day [Monday]."

Rays manager Joe Maddon said that Upton's return is contingent on Upton "getting beyond that soreness."

"He's not ready to engage in regular batting practice yet," Maddon said. "We need him to do that before we get him back. He's well, there's no injury per se, but he's still sore and stiff.

"If he can do [a regular batting practice] on Tuesday and do it comfortably, we can pop him into a game. That's Ronnie's call. But I won't know that until Tuesday."

If Upton plays Tuesday, it's likely he'll do so in a Minor League game in Port Charlotte so he can avoid taking a long bus ride to Jupiter, Fla., to play against the Marlins, which might have a negative effect on Upton's back.

Upton doesn't care where he plays. He just wants to play.

"I told them wherever they can get me at-bats," Upton said. "It doesn't matter to me. ... I think it's just all about getting at-bats. I wouldn't be going to face [Class] A-ball guys or anything like that. It's all about seeing pitches and getting ABs."

Maddon is not yet stressing out about when Upton might return.

"The reason why I'm not concerned is because there is not a real debilitating injury," Maddon said. "From the collision, there's nothing wrong. There's nothing pulled, it's just sore. We just got to get through that soreness, that's all.

"I'm not necessarily concerned, but I want to get him back out there. If we get all of these guys playing right around the last 10 days to two weeks often, I'm fine with that. We have plenty of time to build up the appropriate number of at-bats, and the fact that he would be getting them back-to-back-to-back consecutive days, I think is important also. Hopefully, the weather will continue to cooperate in this manner."

Healthy Scott earns another start

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- A day after hitting his first home run of the spring, Luke Scott was back in the lineup for the Rays in the two-hole as the designated hitter vs. the Red Sox on Sunday, which marked the first time this spring that Scott has played in back-to-back games.

"He felt really good after yesterday's performance," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Obviously, he felt good about the performance itself. But physically, he felt good, too."

Maddon felt encouraged about Scott's health.

"It is [encouraging]," Maddon said. "And how he's thinking and how he's talking, I'm always really aware of that. 'How do you feel?' 'I feel great.' 'Good.' When there's no hesitation in their response, even though there might be some decent results, you like the fact when the guy talks to you that he feels very strongly about that. He is feeling better physically and you're seeing the results on the field."

Maddon says Hellickson has room to grow

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jeremy Hellickson will pitch in a Minor League game Monday when the rest of the team is off.

Rays manager Joe Maddon recently was asked about his expectations for the reigning American League Rookie of the Year Award winner this season.

"I would say 200 innings, hopefully, probably in the 200-210 range," Maddon said. "I think he can do that."

Maddon noted that his biggest goal for Hellickson is to reduce the number of walks he issues to left-handed hitters.

"If he's able to do that, you're going to see a nice jump [in Hellickson's results], because he's very effective against the righty," Maddon said. "And he has been. So I'd like to see the maintenance of what he's done against right-handed hitters and a jump against lefties. And I think, without having to do too much, that's going to come from being able to cut down on the walks against left-handed hitters."

Hellickson posted a 2.95 ERA in 2011, which was remarkable based on his number of starts against AL East teams. Is a sub-3.00 ERA possible for Hellickson in his sophomore season?

"That's within his abilities," Maddon said. "I think there's a certain amount of luck involved in getting your numbers that low in our division. Is it possible for him to do that? Yes. Is he going to do it? ... I think he can, but there has to be some positive luck."

Maddon pointed out that part of Hellickson's success could be attributed to his ability to induce the infield popup.

"He's a fly-ball pitcher, but he's one of those anomaly guys who gets popups in the infield, which, if you look into those guys, they're pretty successful," Maddon said. "I'm sure it's a combination of his fastball-changeup combination. That probably induces the popup more than a lot of other guys are able to do that."

Maddon can't keep a poker face when talking about Hellickson. He likes what the right-hander does once he takes the mound.

"He's very good," Maddon said. "The thing beyond his abilities is his composure. And he's got this curveball, a well-located fastball, one of the better right-handed straight changeups in the game and then on top of that, his curveball is getting better."

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