ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Spring training-like drills in June for the team with baseball's worst record?
Joe Maddon is adamant that extra work he's ordered for the Tampa Bay Rays can help his underachieving club, off to its worst start in nearly a decade, turn the season around.
Bunt defenses and refresher courses on fundamentals that can lead to turning more double plays and improving how outfielders play balls hit off the wall were the focal point of pregame workouts at Tropicana Field over the past few days. More sessions are planned this week, when the Rays finish a 10-game homestand.
"I'm really pleased with what they've done and how they're doing it. It's just a matter of sharpening the mental sword," Maddon said, stressing the extra work that follows a stretch in which the Rays dropped 14 of 15 games is not punitive.
"We've come out, and guys who have been playing in the big leagues for several years have been outstanding. That, to me, is what I'm looking for. How do you approach all that?" Maddon added. "It was good. ... There's not a whole lot of undercurrent, as I can perceive it, in a negative way. So that tells me the guys are actively involved, mentally involved."
The Rays have won seven of 11 on the heels of the 1-14 slide. Still, it's too early to attribute the mini-surge to Spring Training, Part 2.
Five of those wins came against improved, but still cellar-dwelling Houston.
"We won," star third baseman Evan Longoria said after going 3 for 4 and driving in a run in Sunday's 5-2 victory over the Astros. "That's the bottom line, and that's really at this point all I care about."
Maddon remains optimistic about the prospect of salvaging the season, noting the Rays will learn a lot about themselves in the coming weeks.
"We know we're going to come out on the other side, and you want to come out the other side with guys who are going to stick together and not point fingers and who don't abandon the plan. That part of it has been interesting," the manager said.
"It's difficult, but we're not quitting," the manager said. "There's a high level of accountability while this is all going on, and I really appreciate that."