Rays-Blue Jays Preview

Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton and Sean Rodriguez have combined for 17

RBIs in 19 games this season. The trio totaled 28 in 18 matchups in

2010 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Those struggling hitters will look to get untracked Friday night

for the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of a three-game series at

Rogers Centre.

Tampa Bay (9-10) went 10-8 against Toronto (8-10) last season,

with Zobrist hitting .279 with 13 RBIs and Upton (.290, 11 walks,

seven RBIs) and Rodriguez (.340 with eight RBIs) also faring

well.

The Rays have had their share of offensive woes with season,

averaging 3.5 runs, and those hitters are a major reason why.

Zobrist is batting .197, Rodriguez .200 and Upton .210.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, will look for their trio of Jose

Bautista, Aaron Hill and Adam Lind to provide similar production to

last year’s season series. Those players combined for 14 homers and

36 RBIs.

Hill, however, could miss a second straight game with a tight

right hamstring after sitting out Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the New

York Yankees.

“He’s feeling a bit better. We’re going to try and give it as

much time as we can,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos told the

Blue Jays’ official website. “With hamstrings, you don’t know. If

we had to put Hill out there on the field, I guess we could, but he

certainly isn’t at 100 percent.”

The Blue Jays do not need to rely as much on power this year.

New manager John Farrell has introduced an aggressive running

style, and his club is second in the AL with 23 steals.

“This is still a hit-first organization, and we want to maintain

that,” Farrell said. “We want to support that approach with a more

diverse approach on the basepaths, a little bit more

aggressiveness.”

Running used to be a bigger emphasis for the Rays, who led the

majors with 172 steals last year. Carl Crawford, though, has gone

to Boston, and Upton has been caught twice in five attempts.

Upton went 0 for 10 in the final three games of this week’s

series against the Chicago White Sox. The Rays failed to complete a

four-game sweep with Thursday’s 9-2 home loss, but they’ve still

won eight of 10.

Designated hitter Johnny Damon went 1 for 4 in his return after

missing the previous three games because of a left ring finger

injury. He recorded his 2,585th career hit, moving him past Reggie

Jackson into 79th place all-time.

“He looked good after taking a couple days off,” manager Joe

Maddon said.

Friday’s starters – Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 4.50

ERA) and Toronto’s Jo-Jo Reyes (0-2, 6.75) – have never faced their

respective opponents.

Hellickson has alternated losses and wins in his first three

outings. The right-hander yielded four runs over seven innings in

Sunday’s 4-2 defeat against Minnesota.

Reyes has failed to complete four innings in two of three

starts. The left-hander went three-plus while walking five and

allowing four runs Saturday in a 4-1 loss at Boston.