04/21/2013 2:33 PM ET
Jennings embracing responsibility of leadoff spot
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- Desmond Jennings will admit he can hit homers -- he's hit 25 in 229 Major League games -- and that he'd like to do it more often. He hit two leadoff shots in the same series against Baltimore earlier this week, too. But that's not what he takes pride in.
For all of manager Joe Maddon's lineup tweaking and shuffling -- he's used 15 different batting orders in 17 games -- Jennings is the only player who's manned the leadoff spot. And to Jennings, that means finding any way to get on base so he can let his game-changing speed take over.
"As a leadoff man, you've got to score runs. Your job is to get on, set the table and score runs," Jennings said. "That's what I'm trying to do, score as many runs as I can."
Going into Sunday's game, Jennings had been on base 23 times and scored 14 runs, meaning he'd crossed home plate 60.9 percent of the time he'd reached base. His .242 batting average is still relatively low, roughly on par with the .246 mark he posted last season, but he's learned that he can make an impact no matter how he gets on.
"Desmond has a chance to be a very classic leadoff hitter as he gains more experience in baseball. He's a really good base-stealer because he knows when to go, and he normally does not get thrown out," Maddon said. "When he is performing right or well, he's going to accept his walks. He's going to drive himself in with some homers. He's going to do that. But when he gets on base via the walk as well, he's going to be dangerous."
As of the Rays' first pitch Sunday afternoon, Jennings had seen 4.45 pitches per plate appearances this season, third most in the Majors behind Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis (4.61) and Twins backstop Joe Mauer (4.47). He's only walked seven times, but he's working deep counts and making solid contact when his bat does find the ball, even if he doesn't have the results to show for it yet.
"It's part of helping the team. It's part of being a team player. As a leadoff man, you want to get on base," Jennings said. "You want to get in scoring position, especially with the guys that hit behind me. If I get on base, I feel like my chances of scoring are pretty good. I'm just trying to do what I can to set the table. I mean, a hit, a walk, a hit-by-pitch, whatever. I don't prefer a hit-by-pitch, but I'll take it."
Scott likely to start rehab assignment Tuesday
ST. PETERSBURG -- Luke Scott ran the bases at full speed, went through several other running drills and took batting practice Sunday morning at Tropicana Field, and he's ready to start a Minor League rehab assignment as soon as possible.
Scott, who has been on the disabled list since March 31 with a right calf strain, said Sunday's workout was his "best day yet," and that he's just waiting for final clearance from head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield. Assuming that comes Sunday or Monday, Scott could begin a rehab assignment as soon as Tuesday, most likely with Class A Advanced Port Charlotte.
"It's been a long process and a testing of patience, but I've been disciplined in not trying to push it too much and listen to my body," Scott said. "It's been a little stubborn at times, but I like where I'm at. Today was a good day.
"I'm going to go in there [to the trainer's room], get on my hands and knees and beg to send me out. I'm optimistic they'll turn me loose."
Scott hasn't been given a specific schedule or length for his rehab assignment, but he said his only goal will be to "get on the fastball" and let the rest take care of itself once he returns to the Rays' big-league roster. Scott was hitting well in Spring Training despite the injuries, posting a .324/.378/.765 line in 34 at-bats, and he admitted it will be difficult to pick up right where he left off.
"I won't say that it's not going to be a challenge, but I've done what I can as far as what I've been able to do just in the cage, out on the field, also with the track machine, just trying to play at-bats in my head," Scott said. "So mechanically, I'm sound. Physically, I feel really good. So it'll just be a question of getting my timing down, getting my eyes back to speed and just getting the feel back of playing Major League Baseball."
Maddon invites a little pregame magic into clubhouse
ST. PETERSBURG -- On Saturday afternoon, manager Joe Maddon invited DJ Fresh into the Rays' clubhouse to lighten the mood and promised that he'd have another trick up his sleeve for Sunday's game. And once again, he delivered.
Maddon invited local magician Geoff Williams into the home clubhouse at Tropicana Field on Sunday morning to entertain Tampa Bay's players, coaches and staff. Players gathered around a table to watch Williams' act as the morning went on, and even senior adviser Don Zimmer was on the receiving end of a few card tricks and illusions.
Maddon brought in Williams on Sunday for the same reason he had DJ Fresh take over the clubhouse speakers Saturday: to keep his players relaxed and get their minds off what's gone wrong so far this season. It seemed to work Saturday night, at least.
"They were flying all over the place. I loved it. That was so fun to watch," Maddon said after the Rays' 1-0 win against the A's on Saturday. "The moment you're afraid to lose, you will. You can never be afraid to lose a baseball game if you want to be very successful."
Everyone in the clubhouse agrees that Maddon's even-keeled attitude is good for the club, because he never invites panic and maintains the same approach every day, but some Rays players didn't necessarily think they needed a turntable or a magic show to change their fortunes and build chemistry.
"I don't feel like we've been playing tight. I mean, we haven't been crushing the ball, but as far as everybody playing tight, I don't feel like that's been our problem," center fielder Desmond Jennings said Saturday. "I think everybody's loose. Everybody's in here pulling for each other. We feel like we're in a good position still. We stick together as a team, and we've got confidence in each other that we can turn things around."
• With Saturday night's 1-0 win over the A's, the Rays became just the fourth American League team in the last 25 years to throw four shutouts in their first 17 games of the season. That puts them in company with the 1990 Brewers (five), 1995 Red Sox (four) and this year's Rangers (four).
Since the beginning of 2012, the Rays lead the AL with 19 shutouts, tying them with the Braves for the Major League lead.
• Monday night's Rays-Yankees game at Tropicana Field can be seen on Sun Sports and ESPN. First pitch is scheduled for 7:08 p.m.