Longoria ready for Jays
By BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
|Rays all-star infielder Evan Longoria, out since the second game of the season with an injury, is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday against the Blue Jays. (J. MERIC/Getty Images/AFP)
TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Rays learned in the first month of the season that they could survive, and win, without Evan Longoria.
The defending American League East champions emerged with a 15-13 record despite having their all-star third baseman go down with a strained left oblique in the second game of the season.
The Rays without Longoria would be a bit like the Jays without Jose Bautista considering he has career numbers in April that include a .328 average, with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs.
But the wait is over. Longoria is back. The Rays offensive catalyst is expected to be in the starting lineup Tuesday when Toronto opens a three-game series here.
Longoria is supposed to come off the DL after playing his final rehab game for double-A Montgomery Monday night. And, while the Rays survived without him, they did very much miss him.
“Obviously you’re missing an all-star player,” said manager Joe Maddon said. “A Silver Slugger guy, a Gold Glove guy — you’re missing all that stuff, the guy who’s supposed to be the centrepiece of your lineup, offensively.”
Longoria said during a conference call Monday that he feels 100% ready physically for his return and that he’s been impressed with the team’s performance.
“We’ve talked about it from the beginning that we’re going to find different ways to win and different guys to step up and really fill in roles. And it’s been awesome to watch,” he said.
One reason the Rays have overcome Longoria’s absence has been the hitting of outfielder Matt Joyce. In the last 15 games, Joyce has hit .400 with five doubles, two homers and seven RBIs.
Meantime, Sam Fuld, who beat up on Jays pitching in a series in Toronto last month snapped out of an 0-for-18 funk on the weekend.
None of this can be good news for Jo-Jo Reyes who starts Tuesday for Toronto. Reyes needs a solid outing over six or seven innings after allowing 33 hits and 22 runs (14 earned) in 23 innings pitched. Reyes has avoided demotion so far but manager John Farrell admitted this week that this start was “an important one ... he would do himself and certainly us a world of good to go out there and pitch a good game.”
Reyes faces Wade Davis in the series opener. The hard-throwing Davis has taken a bit off his fastball but improved his location and it’s worked wonders so far; allowing just 30 hits and 10 earned runs in his 33 innings pitched. The right-hander has won three in a row, and hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a game since his first start of the season.