Joe Maddon has, according to an MLB.com report, figured out most of his batting order. It’s almost exactly how I projected it, just with two small changes: Upton and Pena are flipped, as are Bartlett and Navarro. B.J. Upton will, apparently, become a cleanup hitter while Carlos Pena hits third, while Dioner Navarro will hit eighth and Jason Bartlett ninth. After reading the article, I can see why these moves may be justified. Pena says he wants Crawford hitting in front of him because he’ll be easy to drive in on extra-base hits, and he also likes serving as Upton’s protection; he hit .333 with 18 home runs and 40 RBI in 36 games in front of Upton in 2007. I previously thought that Upton hitting behind Pena would ruin his stolen base opportunities, but stealing in front of Pena would only lead to an intentional walk, so this looks like a bold strategy by the Rays. (Well, Crawford stealing in front of Pena could mean the same thing, but few pitchers would walk anyone to face Upton if they know what’s good for them.) At the bottom of the order, Maddon says he likes a good runner to bat ninth and turn it over to the top guys, so Bartlett is that guy. I guess that between that strategy and higher expectations for an improved Navarro, this could be a working move too. Akinori Iwamura, who will hit leadoff, hit into just two double plays in 491 at bats in 2007. With Bartlett in front of him, the odds stay low. These lineup moves actually look perfectly good and could make good hitters great.
In other lineup-related news, Carl Crawford explains why he doesn’t like being a leadoff hitter: he’s not patient enough (we already knew this), and he hates going behind 0-1 to lead off almost every game, which is reasoning I hadn’t thought of before. He prefers hitting second because he can see what the pitcher has and play more aggressively. Iwamura, a cleanup hitter in his native Japan, actually likes leading off because he can let everyone see the pitcher’s stuff and possibly get on base more often. So I like that idea if everyone’s behind it.
Finally, in training room news, Rocco Baldelli may be held out for yet another few days after more discomfort last weekend in his Spring Training debut. The Rays should be taking him extremely slowly until the season is ready to start, and even then proceed with caution, and that is the route they are taking. So what more can it take to keep this guy out on the field? He may have worse luck than Mark Prior. Also taking things slowly, but making more progress, is Scott Kazmir, who may actually be in line to make a few Grapefruit League starts and then pitch Opening Day on an optimistic schedule. There have been no setbacks in his rehab, and he is progressing as normally as he can. More in-depth talk on this and more as news comes off the wire, and until next time, go Rays.