ST. PETERSBURG -- As promised, Joe Maddon staged one final circus act for the Rays' clubhouse on Wednesday: penguins.
Throughout the current six-game homestand, the Rays' manager has orchestrated visits by a magician, a DJ, a cockatoo and finally penguins.
Wednesday's guests were a pair of penguins named Cliff and Shelley, who call the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Fla., home.
"Penquins were great," Maddon said. "Cliff and Shelley -- very friendly penguins. I was told Cliff is one of the friendliest penguins in the world. … It's just an attempt, again, to get our players to chill out a bit."
Given Ben Zobrist's knowledge of the Bible, the Rays' super-utility man was the obvious player to ask whether the parade of animals was an indication that an ark was being built at Tropicana Field.
"I don't know; are there more animals coming in?" Zobrist said. "I'm not surprised at penguins, honestly. Nothing surprises me in here anymore. If there were more animals coming in, like a zoo, then I would wonder if there was an ark."
Maddon's attempt to loosen up his players during the homestand appears to have paid off. After winning just twice on their nine-game road trip, the Rays took a 4-1 mark into Wednesday night's game, the final contest of the current homestand.
Maddon noted that his team's clubhouse now has more of a natural feel and that his team is playing the way it should be.
"Not only that the feel in the dugout [is improved], but the energy prior to the game, the believing we're going to win once the game begins," said Maddon, who said the team just wasn't as energetic or confident in itself until this homestand. "And again, that just happens to every team, every year at some point. It just happened to us early."
Price displeased, but Maddon defends decision
ST. PETERSBURG -- David Price expressed his displeasure at being lifted from Tuesday night's 4-3 loss to the Yankees in the ninth inning after surrendering a leadoff single to Robinson Cano. To that point, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner had used just 97 pitches and still looked fresh.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he had not talked to his ace about being upset.
"I didn't even know he was displeased about coming out of the game," Maddon said.
Maddon noted that he respected Price's opinion.
"If he had gotten Cano out, he would have pitched to the other hitters," Maddon said. "Instead, he got on base and I thought it was best to go with Fernando [Rodney] at that point."
Rodney struck out Vernon Wells, but Cano stole second on the final pitch to Wells. Maddon then elected to have pinch-hitter Travis Hafner intentionally walked before Lyle Overbay drew a walk on a 3-2 count to load the bases. Irchiro Suzuki finished off the rally with a two-run single to give New York a lead it would keep.
"I'm very big about open lines of communication around here, and he was probably very frustrated at that point," Maddon said of Price. "But, yeah, if he'd gotten Cano out, I liked the way it set up for him. If he didn't get Cano out, then I did not like the way it set up for him. So that's why I took him out."
Because Price is still winless this season, Maddon was asked if he should have considered leaving the lefty in to try to work his way out of the inning and build confidence.
"No, because it's about the Rays first," said Maddon, who reiterated that he still felt that bringing Rodney into the game gave the Rays their best chance of winning.
If [Price had] gotten Cano out, then I liked him on Wells and then on [Ben] Francisco because they would have kept Hafner on the bench," Maddon said. "And then here came Overbay. So it was set up perfectly. Once Cano got on first, I thought there were a lot of different factors I didn't like, and that's why you've got a guy who had a pretty good year last year [in Rodney] and he was kind of frisky, so I kind of liked that."
Maddon trusts Rodney's struggles won't linger
ST. PETERSBURG -- Fernando Rodney has allowed four earned runs in seven appearances this season after allowing five earned runs in 76 appearances last year. But Rays manager Joe Maddon does not sound concerned about his closer.
"This is what I do believe," Maddon said. "I believe we have really good relief pitchers. I believe to this point, it really hasn't gone our way, but if we continue to put him in the right spots, they're going to pitch a lot like they did last year."
Maddon allowed that it is "unreasonable" to expect Rodney to have another season like he had in 2012, which was an historic season by the Dominican right-hander.
"But he's going to be really good again," Maddon said. "I mean, he has been. And you're going to see another very productive [season], high end -- he's among the best closers in baseball. ... It's going to happen."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.