Jennings back to leadoff for Rays

Desmond Jennings, hitting leadoff for the third straight game, steals second ahead of shortstop Ronny Cedeno’s tag in the first. He scores on a sac fly.

Associated Press

Desmond Jennings, hitting leadoff for the third straight game, steals second ahead of shortstop Ronny Cedeno’s tag in the first. He scores on a sac fly.

HOUSTON — Manager Joe Maddon isn't ready to permanently commit to CF Desmond Jennings in the leadoff spot.

But Jennings' improved approach, along with RF Matt Joyce's recent struggles, earned him a third straight opportunity on top of the Rays' batting order Wednesday against the Astros and first against a right-handed starter since May 21.

"Let's see if 'Dez' can stir it up in the one-hole," Maddon said.

Jennings did just that, hitting the first pitch of the game from RHP Bud Norris into centerfield before stealing second and scoring on a sacrifice fly.

Jennings said he has been more relaxed at the plate since Maddon moved him out of the leadoff spot against righties, finding the right times to be aggressive.

" 'Dez' is starting to get his strike zone back," Maddon said.

Jennings said he has been a leadoff hitter all his life, including in the minors. But Maddon said even with Jennings' speed, he might eventually profile better as a No. 3-4-5 hitter with his power and RBI ability.

The key for Jennings is improving his on-base percentage, which was .322 entering Wednesday. Maddon said elite leadoff hitters are .350 or higher.

"If we can get him going, he can really be the catalyst," Maddon said. "That would be a nice thing for the end of the first half and into the second half of the season."

LONGO LEGS: Evan Longoria, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, felt good enough after Tuesday's game to be DH for the second straight day, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the 4-1 loss.

It appears he will remain at DH for the time being. Maddon said he's not concerned about when Longoria can return to third base. Longoria said he'd rather play the field but all he really cares about is being in the lineup every day and helping the team win.

"If I can be in the lineup and be effective offensively, then that's obviously more important than trying to do two things at once and not being able to do either one of them effectively," he said. "I'm happy where I'm at, considering the circumstances."

FAMILIAR FACE: Maddon made a point of seeking out ex-Rays 1B Carlos Peña, who returned to the Astros lineup after missing two games due to a death in the family in the Dominican Republic. Peña, who is hitting .218 with eight homers and 25 RBIs, said the last-place Astros remind him a lot of a young Devil Rays team that went from worst to first in 2008.

"I can see that happening here very soon," Peña said. "And I want to be part of it."

LIKE PRICE: RHP Chris Archer said LHP David Price is one of his favorite players and has had a tremendous influence on him. "(Price) is basically what I'm striving to be," Archer said.

Archer believes he learned a lot Tuesday watching Price, who struck out 10 in a 70-pitch, seven-inning outing, that could help him in today's start.

Archer said he often tries to do too much, which is why he averages 18.8 pitches per inning, third most in the majors. But Archer said Price's outing taught him that he can "compete in the strike zone."

"You don't have to throw five or six pitches to get people out," Archer said. "You can throw two or three, because it didn't seem like (Price) was trying to strike people out, which led to him striking more people out."

MISCELLANY: Price said he felt great the day after his first start since coming off the DL for his left triceps strain. … Triple-A Durham will be represented by INF Vince Belnome (starting at third base), RHP J.D. Martin and RHP Kirby Yates at the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 17. Double-A Montgomery had five players selected for the Southern League game July 19: OF Kevin Kiermaier, 1B Cameron Seitzer, OF Mikie Mahtook, LHP Enny Romero and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser (unable to play due to his promotion to Durham).

Jennings back to leadoff for Rays 07/03/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 4, 2013 1:36am]

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