- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2009

PORT CHARLOTTE, FLA. (AP) - Injured Tampa Bay outfielder B.J. Upton likely will miss the start of the regular season after being hit in the hand by a pitch during a minor league spring training game.

The Rays already were determined to not to rush the center fielder back from offseason surgery on his left, non-throwing shoulder. Although the hand injury is not considered serious, manager Joe Maddon said it’s doubtful Upton will be ready for opening day April 6.

“It’s not a huge issue for me,” Maddon said Sunday. “I want him to be healthy and well and ready, and I want him to have the kind of year he’s capable of because he’s healthy. I would want to do nothing to jeopardize the latter part of the season by being a little bit too quick now.”

Upton was bothered most of last season by a shoulder injury that affected his offensive production. He had surgery on a torn labrum after the World Series and has not appeared in a major league exhibition this spring.

The 24-year-old batted .273 with nine homers and 67 RBIs last season after hitting .300 with 24 homers and 82 RBIs in 2007. He tied an AL record for most home runs in a single postseason with seven last fall.

Upton was hit on the left hand Saturday. He initially thought it may have been broken, but said he felt better Sunday and hopes to play in another minor league game in a few days.

“Luckily, the X-rays came back negative. Just try to get some of the swelling out the next couple of days and get back on course,” Upton said.

The Rays begin the season with a six-game road trip before returning to St. Petersburg for the home opener against the New York Yankees on April 13. Maddon would not speculate whether Upton might be ready by then.

“It kind of leads us to believe he’s not going to make that first road trip. I don’t know what’s going to happen after that,” Maddon said. “I want no rushing with this. I want him to be right.”

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said he’s not ready to declare Upton will not be ready for opening day. Nevertheless, he stressed the Rays have no intentions of playing the center fielder until he’s “100 percent” healthy.

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