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Evan Longoria's health a key for Rays in offseason

ST. PETERSBURG — As if they needed the reminder of his three-homer performance in Wednesday's season finale, the Rays are so much better with 3B Evan Longoria in the lineup.

And with Longoria missing 88 games this season after a left hamstring injury, and more than 20 percent of the Rays' games (163 of 800) since he was called up in April 2008, they are making it a priority to find ways to keep him playing.

"To the extent we can keep him on the field for 150-plus games, there's nothing we can do this offseason that will be more meaningful," executive VP Andrew Friedman said Thursday.

He said he even joked with their athletic training staff, which he considers "probably the best in baseball," that "we're going to have a 150-game marker for Evan, and that their job performance would be dictated by such."

Longoria, who changed his offseason training last year to emphasize more flexibility than strength, said he would take just a short time off and continue with his rehab, with no surgery or medical procedures necessary, and seek a new program.

"You just hope the offseason can get myself healthy and in the right spot to play 140-plus games next year," he said.

COACHING UP: All the coaches, including hitting coach Derek Shelton, a popular target for fan criticism, are under contract for 2013, though manager Joe Maddon stopped short of saying they'd all be back pending his usual year-end conversation with Friedman. "I thought the coaching staff did a great job this year. I really do," Maddon said.

HATS OFF: Closer Fernando Rodney's cap, presumably turned to the left, will be displayed at the Hall of Fame, which made the request after Rodney broke Dennis Eckersley's record for ERA by a reliever, finishing at 0.60.

MISCELLANY: Though a long way from a decision, Friedman said the way Ben Zobrist played shortstop "makes it a real scenario for us to focus on and think through." … Friedman said he would talk with Larry Reynolds, agent for CF B.J. Upton, who is fully expected to leave as a free agent. …. The Shirts Off Our Back promotion raised $43,700 for the Rays Baseball Foundation and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association Educational Foundation. … Longoria and ex-Ray Dan Johnson (now with the White Sox) became just the third and fourth players in MLB history to hit three homers in their team's final game of the season, joining Gus Zernial (1950) and Dick Allen (1968).

>>FAST FACTS

Winter wonders

Free agents: RHP Kyle Farns­worth, LHP J.P. Howell, INF Jeff Keppinger, 1B Carlos Peña, RHP Joel Peralta, OF B.J. Upton

Team options: C Jose Molina ($1.8 million), RHP Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million), DH Luke Scott ($6 million), RHP James Shields ($10.25 million)

Arbitration eligible: RHP Burke Badenhop, OF Ben Francisco, OF Sam Fuld, OF Matt Joyce, RHP Jeff Niemann, LHP David Price, INF Ryan Roberts, INF Sean Rodriguez

Evan Longoria's health a key for Rays in offseason 10/04/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 9:57pm]

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