Longoria gears for debut; hopes stay is long
Touted prospect Evan Longoria arrived in town early Saturday morning, and admittedly didn't sleep very long, excited over his much-anticipated big league debut tonight for the Rays at third base.
Longoria, filling in for the injured Willy Aybar (strained hamstring), said he hopes he's here to say, with manager Joe Maddon agreeing that could become a possibility.
While the Rays made a somewhat controversial - yet not unanimous - decision to send the 2006 First-round pick down to Triple-A after an impressive spring, Maddon said while this move wasn't ideal, it was undisputed.
"Crazy once again," Longoria said with a grin. "A whirlwind experience. I really wasn't expecting to get up this quickly. But it's sad it has to come at Willy's expense. But I'm obviously happy to be here."
"Longoria will play third today and tomorrow, hitting sixth in the lineup.
Other pre-game news and notes:
*Ace LHP Scott Kazmir is scheduled to throw two controlled innings at extended spring on Tuesday, followed up by a start at Single-A Vero Beach Friday, the first of three expected minor league starts. That could push his return to early May, depending on how many days he goes between starts.
*RHP Matt Garza (radial nerve irritation) played catch today for the first time since pulling himself out of Tuesday's start. He said he felt "great" and pain-free, throwing 10-15 times from 100 feet. Maddon said Garza will likely throw from 120 feet Sunday...
*3B Willy Aybar said his left hamstring hurt so much Thursday after tweaking it trying to score Wednesday that he "couldn't even walk." Aybar played through the pain after battling hamstring issues in spring training, but the latest tweak was too much. Aybar said he hoped to be back in the two week range, as opposed to the "we-don't-know-yet" thoughts the Rays had alluded to Friday night when they put Aybar on the 15-day DL
*RHP prospect Jeff Niemann wasn't here today, but will make his big league debut Sunday against the Orioles. Maddon said pre-game there is a chance that the former first round pick could "stick" with the team, but with a lesser chance, obviously, than Longoria...
*To make room for Longoria on the 40-man roster, RHP Chad Orvella was moved to the 60-day DL...
Other than Longoria's name in the sixth-hole, the only other big change in the lineup is that INF Elliot Johnson will start at shortstop, with Maddon saying they're just giving Jason Bartlett a day off.
-- JOE SMITH