Notes: Two-hour tour for Maddon

Notes: Two-hour tour for Maddon

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays split up Saturday to play games against the Phillies and Twins, but one unusual facet of the divided squad was manager Joe Maddon's decision not to pull rank and electing to take the two-hour bus trip to Fort Myers.

"I think it's important if I say certain things, I've got to back them up," said Maddon of his decision. "I've had two-hour bus rides in the past; I've had 11-hour bus rides [and] I've had 13-hour bus rides. So, two hours is not that big of a deal. [I can listen to] satellite radio, [read a] good book, [eat a] banana [and drink a] cup of coffee."

Bench coach Bill Evers managed the Rays team facing the Phillies in St. Petersburg.

"This gives us an opportunity to give more guys extended at-bats," Evers said. "I'll give Joe an overview tonight. {Executive vice president of baseball operations] Andrew [Friedman] is staying here, I believe. So, I'm sure he'll give Joe an overview of what he sees either tonight or tomorrow morning prior to coming out here."

As for not having to make the bus ride, Evers didn't tip his hand.

"[It] didn't make any difference to me," Evers said. "My job is wherever [Maddon] wants me to be. That's fine with me. It lets me get home at a decent hour now."

Evers, who isn't as talkative as Maddon, predicted that Akinori Iwamura would get his first hit of the spring. Iwamura complied, lacing an RBI single off Freddy Garcia in the first inning.

Approach at the plate: Maddon and his coaches have been working with the players this spring to try and get them to work the opposing pitchers better when they are up to bat.

"[We are trying to] put together a team concept offensively," Maddon said. "See, I think you play offense. Everybody talks about hitting, but I think you play offense. It's a combination of base running and hitting. And I don't like the idea of just trying to hit three-run homers.

"We are really trying to take this as it was written up 100 years ago, and this is how it's supposed to be played. We believe -- and a lot of team's believe this - [the] more you extend their starter the first game of a series, you have a better chance to get into their bullpen the first game of a series. Obviously, [in] a three- or four-game series, you can wear out an entire staff. That's what these guys do so well. I think Toronto is on the verge of doing that."

Maddon said the concept is "great" but not easy to put together.

"If guys have not been nurtured that way, whether in college or pro ball, it's hard just to put it in place here," Maddon said. "So it's going to take some time. And I've given my thoughts on that. And [hitting coach Steve Henderson's] basic premise of being selective but aggressive, that's really what it boils down to."

Maddon believes most of the teams in the American League East are advanced when it comes to their hitters having quality grind-it-out at-bats, which lends a sense of urgency to acquiring the approach.

"So we have to move this thing along," Maddon said. "It's not easy to do it here, but we're going to do it. And we've already put the groundwork out there. The players have responded very well. We're going to have some games where we get totally away from it. I expect that. But then we have to get back into it. We have to keep talking about it until we're able to work quality at-bats for nine hard innings."

Veteran Greg Norton said the idea is to not be afraid to hit with two strikes.

"I think what Joe is saying is he's trying to get that pitcher's pitch count up," Norton said. "And stressing when we do get two strikes to foul balls off until we do get a pitch. ... I just think it's being more selective, getting your pitch, especially in situations where we can score some runners."

Up next: The Rays will host the Astros in a 1:05 p.m. ET game on Sunday at Progress Energy Park. Right-hander James Shields will start for the Rays, which will give fans a chance to see firsthand what has been called the best changeup in the organization. Once Shields finishes his three-inning stint, he will be followed by Mitch Talbot, Shawn Camp, Ruddy Lugo, Seth McClung and Chad Orvella. Right-hander Brian Moehler will start for the Astros, and he will be followed by left-hander and former Ray Trever Miller and right-hander Ezequiel Astacio.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.