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News » Indians-Rays Preview 2009-05-17

Indians-Rays Preview 2009-05-17

Indians-Rays Preview 2009-05-17
B.J. Upton hit seven home runs on the Tampa Bay Rays' run to the World Series last fall, but hadn't rediscovered his power stroke in his first 28 games this season.

The Cleveland Indians probably don't need any more proof that he's found it.

Upton's first two homers of the year have come in consecutive wins over the Indians, and on Sunday he'll try to help the Rays make it three out of four against visiting Cleveland.

Upton only hit nine homers in the 2008 regular season, but connected for seven in 11 games between the division series and AL championship series.

He began 2009 on the disabled list and then didn't hit one in his first 28 games back as the Rays (18-20) struggled to regain the form that helped them win baseball's toughest division last season. Upton wasn't hitting the ball at all, in fact - after going 0 for 4 in a loss to Boston on May 8 his average was down to .152.

But Tampa Bay's leadoff man has hit .303 (10 for 33) in his last seven games and seems to be regaining his power swing. Upton had three hits Friday, including a walkoff homer in the Rays' 8-7 comeback win, then homered again Saturday as Tampa Bay beat Cleveland 4-2.

"I've still got a long way to go," Upton, who's improved his average to .192, told the team's official Web site. "I'll just stay within myself and be patient."

The Rays were 41-8 when Upton had an RBI in 2008 and Saturday they improved to 5-1 this season when he drives in a run, a statistic that - if Upton can start hitting consistently - could help lift Tampa Bay to another postseason berth.

Manager Joe Maddon believes that's where the Rays are headed.

"I expect us to get back to the playoffs and I expect that we'll stop making the little mistakes that we didn't make in the past," Maddon said.

The Indians (14-24) hoped they'd be going back to the postseason after a one-year absence, but their dreadful start has hardly been indicative of a playoff-caliber club. Cleveland fell to 0-14 when it scores three runs or fewer with Saturday's loss.

One player who's done more than his share for the Indians' offense is Victor Martinez. Alternating between first base and catcher hasn't hurt Martinez at the plate - with three hits Saturday he improved his major league-best average to .409.

"He's doing everything he can to help get us going," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's just been on a mission."

Northeast Ohio native Andy Sonnanstine (1-4, 7.27 ERA) will get a chance to stymie Cleveland's offense Sunday, but he hasn't looked capable of shutting down any lineup lately. The right-hander had one of the worst starts of his career Tuesday at Baltimore, giving up seven runs and nine hits in just two innings in a 7-5 loss.

"I really can't (figure out what went wrong)," Sonnanstine said. "I felt good physically. I felt like my pitches were good. It just wasn't my night. I felt like they had my number."

The Indians have had his number as well - Sonnanstine is 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA in two career starts against them, both at Progressive Field. Outfielder Ben Francisco is 4 for 5 with two homers off Sonnanstine.

Cleveland will counter with David Huff, who will be making his major-league debut. The left-hander went 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA at Triple-A Columbus, and he's replacing Jeremy Sowers - for now - in the rotation.

"Hopefully we're bringing him up here at a good time," Wedge told the Indians' official Web site.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 17, 2009

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