Even in the unpredictable world of baseball, where every day brings surprises, there is one thing you can usually count on: Switch-hitters will swing left-handed against right-handers; that's why they are switch-hitters.But last week in Toronto, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had his switch-hitters bat right-handed against righty Shaun Marcum. That's why he is Joe Maddon, one of the Majors' leading out-of-the-box thinkers. Switch-hitters commonly stay on the same side against knuckleball pitchers, feeling it gives them a better look at the dancer's moves. But Marcum does not throw that pitch. His pitching splits, however, are backwards -- right-handers (.287) are hitting more than a hundred points higher against him than are lefties. Maddon did his homework and, besides ordering switchers Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist and Willy Aybar into the right-side batters' box, also loaded his lineup with right-handed hitters in what turned into a 7-3 victory over the Blue Jays. The Rays didn't exactly beat up Marcum, doing most of the damage against a pair of relievers in a six-run ninth, but the mind games are certainly an intriguing angle to Wednesday's rematch. "I'm sure [Marcum] has given that a lot of thought," Maddon said. "It always comes down to execution regardless. As a pitcher, you have to make a pitch, and as a hitter, you have to work a good at-bat. It always comes down to execution. The other team can know what you're doing. But if you execute properly, you still have a chance of it working." Marcum has never had problems executing his pitches against the Rays, given his lifetime 1.67 ERA against them in 32 1/3 innings. If Maddon tries the same tactic again, his lineup will have a familiar look to Marcum: Gabe Kapler in right field, Zobrist at first or second, Sean Rodriguez at shortstop or second and Kelly Shoppach or Navarro catching. But the best thing the Rays could have going for them is David Price, almost a forgotten man in a recent parade of No. 1 Draft choices making splashes, from Cincinnati's Mike Leake to Washington's Stephen Strasburg. Yet Price, Tampa Bay's top pick in 2007, already has an impressive body of work, topped by his club-leading eight wins. The most recent of those was in the aforementioned duel with Marcum in Toronto, which was his fourth start without yielding an earned run. The left-hander presents an ominous challenge for a team already coming off being held to two hits in Tuesday's 9-0 loss. As a team, the Blue Jays are batting .200 against lefties, with Aaron Hill and Adam Lind a combined .104 (10-for-96). Blue Jays: Overbay moves up in order
Lyle Overbay was nudged slightly up in Tuesday's batting order, and went 0-for-3 in the six-hole after having hit .382 (13-for-34) in nine straight games as the No. 7 hitter. ... Alex Gonzalez was permitted to miss the game to look after a personal issue, and is expected back at shortstop Wednesday. ... Infielder John McDonald remained away from the team for a fourth game to stay with his ailing father, and he could go on the bereavement list. Rays: Niemann dominating at the Trop
Jeff Niemann kept streaking on a couple of fronts with his Tuesday shutout: It was his 16th consecutive home start since his last loss on May 2, 2009, the longest active such streak in the Majors, and he also became the only Tampa Bay pitcher other than James Shields in 2007 to win his first six decisions of the season. Worth noting
What is it about Tampa Bay and 6-foot-9 pitchers? Niemann's victory on Tuesday was his overall seventh straight reverting to last season, tying the franchise record set in 2005 by Mark Hendrickson.
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