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Evan Longoria returns to Tampa Bay Rays lineup

ST. PETERSBURG — 3B Evan Longoria returned to the lineup Friday, saying he was glad to be back with teammates after missing two games while in California because of a death in his family.

Longoria, 23, said it has been a tough situation, but after arriving on a red-eye flight Thursday, he hoped to separate his grief from his preparation.

"Everybody has their own stuff that they're going through, whether it's family or within their own heads or whatever," said Longoria, who will receive his 2008 American League rookie of the year award today.

"We all have to deal with it. It's just something that I really don't like to bring to the baseball field."

Longoria said he prefers to keep his family matters private and was appreciative of the condolences he received from teammates.

Friday, he extended his hitting streak to a career-high nine games with a sixth-inning double.

perci POWER: Though closer Troy Percival's first scoreless appearance and second save wasn't without drama (he walked one and gave up a hit before stranding the tying run at third), manager Joe Maddon said he was very sharp and squeezed a bit by the umpires.

Percival said he "found myself," adding he returned to the approach that worked so well in spring training (when he gave up two runs in eight appearances) and did not overthrow. In doing so, he reached 93 mph.

"I was just a lot better; a lot more under control," he said. "Even after 15 years, I let the adrenaline get the better of me the first two outings and I was trying to overthrow. When I overthrow, I probably throw the ball slower. So (Friday), I thought I threw the ball as good as I could possibly throw it."

ON POINT: LHP Scott Kazmir, who will go for his third straight win tonight, said he feels better than at any point last season (when he was an All-Star but began the year on the disabled list).

Kazmir's work on maintaining his balance in his delivery has paid off. He lasted 62/3 innings in his last start against the Yankees, his longest outing since July 21. Maddon said he noticed a difference during the last few weeks of spring training.

"I just saw a better, more compact delivery, and everything is now going more toward the catcher as opposed to falling off," Maddon said. "This has been over a month now that I think he's been very consistent throwing the baseball."

GIVING BACK: The Rays Baseball Foundation awarded a combined $150,000 to 29 area nonprofit groups. Six players, including Kazmir, RHP Dan Wheeler and LF Carl Crawford, attended a ceremony at Tropicana Field.

"When you're a tiny organization and the Rays step up and say, 'We'd like to support you,' it kind of makes you stand a little taller," said Heidi Akers, president of the Heart Gallery, which received $5,000.

MISCELLANY: Todd Kalas plans to rejoin the Rays next week in Seattle. Kalas, a member of the broadcast team, has been away because of the death of his father, Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas. … Willy Aybar and Joe Nelson will sign autographs for kids 14 and younger from noon to 12:30 p.m. Sunday along the first-base line. … Former Rays and White Sox closer Roberto Hernandez and comedian/actor George Lopez, playing in the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am golf tournament in Lutz, attended the game. Also in attendance were about 8,000 people from Pinellas County Schools.

Evan Longoria returns to Tampa Bay Rays lineup 04/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 18, 2009 6:16am]
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