Friday July 2nd, 2010

Rays outfielder B.J. Upton wasn't happy that teammate Evan Longoria called him out in the dugout in range of the television cameras for his lack of hustle in center field last week. But Longoria was well within his rights to immediately question Upton for such an obvious lapse. Don't want to be upbraided by teammates in public? There's a simple solution, and it's not for teammates to be mindful of your sensitivity and ask, "Pardon me, chap, but can I have a word with you in the dugout tunnel away from the cameras?" The solution is not to jog after balls in front of the cameras.

The dugout confrontation deserved the attention, but there's a bigger problem here for the Rays than Upton's occasional lack of hustle: Upton is not a very good hitter right now. His swing is so long and late that he is getting overmatched by right-handed power pitchers. Pitchers with power sliders or 90-plus mph fastballs at the belt and above own him. Upton is hitting .203 against right-handers. Against power pitchers, he is hitting .169 with 25 strikeouts in 59 at-bats.

Upton turns 26 next month and has played in almost 600 major league games, and yet he is such a mess mechanically that he has regressed as a hitter. He is chasing more pitches out of the zone and swinging and missing more than ever before in his career.

Upton is a terrific baserunner and defensive player and still is young enough to blossom into a big time star. But right now, other than hype based on potential, he essentially has been Melky Cabrera as a big league hitter. Upton and Cabrera were born 10 days apart and entering Thursday had taken the same number of at-bats in the big leagues -- and been surprisingly alike as hitters:

The grind of the season is catching up to young pitchers:

• The Yankees gave Phil Hughes nine days off as part of their plan to cap his innings this year. Hughes then gave up a career-high 10 hits and season-high seven runs to Seattle, the worst offense in the league.

• The Reds gave two extra days to rookie Mike Leake, who then gave up a season-high six runs to the Phillies. He is 0-1 with a 6.85 ERA in his past four starts.

• The Rangers gave two extra days to Colby Lewis, who is not that young (30), but who often threw just once a week last year pitching in Japan. He will pitch tonight against the White Sox.

• The Diamondbacks gave two extra days to Edwin Jackson, who also goes tonight, after his 149-pitch no-hitter. Arizona has ridden him hard for more than one game. Jackson has averaged 117 pitches in his past nine starts.

Clubs do a much better job than ever monitoring the health and workloads of young pitchers, but it still creates issues, especially for contending clubs, when it comes to balancing development with the need to win. Many teams will use the All-Star break as a built-in "vacation" for a young starter by skipping a start before and/or after the break, which is how Detroit got Rick Porcello 15 consecutive days of rest in July last year.

Among the key young pitchers to watch when it comes to second-half workload will be Hughes, Leake, Mat Latos of San Diego, David Price of Tampa Bay, Ian Kennedy of Arizona, Brian Matusz of Baltimore, Jaime Garcia of St. Louis and Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil of Toronto.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria named Edwin Rodriguez his manager for the rest of the season in the dugout in San Juan five minutes before the first pitch Tuesday, a stunt that smacked of impetuosity. The Marlins have been around since 1993. They have changed managers more times in those years than any franchise in baseball. Loria can't take responsibility for all of those moves, but in a little more than nine years, starting with his ownership in Montreal, he has fired five men: Felipe Alou, Jeff Torborg, Jack McKeon, Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez.

Rodriguez, the full-time interim manager, has little chance of sticking around, essentially because Loria has overrated his own team, which doesn't have the defense or pitching depth to be the playoff team he thinks it should be.

The reason Loria fired Gonzalez was to take a shot at hiring Bobby Valentine, who had just interviewed with the Orioles. But those negotiations blew up, as Valentine learned what it might be like to work for Loria and team president David Samson. Loria fired his manager from Europe by way of a statement, replete with a misspelling, then capped a six-day "search" to hire his interim manager in the dugout five minutes before a game in San Juan. Strange? It has become the Marlin Way.

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