DETROIT — When Jose Lobaton was handed the Rays' backup catcher job to start the season, he acknowledged he had something to prove.
Lobaton, 28, had been out-performed in spring training by C Chris Gimenez, making the team largely because he was out of minor-league options.
But Lobaton is making the most of his opportunity, playing with the kind of confidence and ability the Rays had yet to see in two injury-plagued and inconsistent seasons.
The switch-hitter is batting .304 in his past 22 games — moving his average up to .266 — while displaying an improved all-around game.
Manager Joe Maddon said the difference is more mental than mechanical.
"I just think he knows he belongs here now as a major-league player," Maddon said. "His day his different, the way he reacts, the way he talks, just calmness. He's now able to play at the major-league level like he played at the minor-league level, which is pretty good. … Now you're seeing the catching ability, the blocking has been outstanding, throwing has gotten a lot better, and offensively from both sides."
Lobaton said that playing more helps him at the plate, and knowing the pitchers better has aided him defensively. Maddon said he also can recall two recent "spectacular" throws Lobaton has made, including gunning down speedy Indians CF Michael Bourn trying to steal Sunday.
Maddon has said that the key for any player to do well at the major-league level is the ability to be himself. And Maddon has seen Lobaton go from a "wide-eyed" rookie to a more comfortable, and funny, individual.
"I feel I've got that confidence," Lobaton said. "And you get those hits and you get those RBIs, it makes you feel better. And hopefully I can continue getting those hits and the confidence stays there."
LONG BALL: 3B Evan Longoria's opposite-field, two-run homer Sunday snapped a career high-matching streak of 19 games without one. Maddon acknowledged that Longoria has been "a little bit off" at the plate and not hitting the ball as hard recently.
"I'm really just trying to get back into the swing of things, try to feel better at the plate, have better at-bats, swing at better pitches," Longoria said. "That's the thing that was making me successful at the beginning of the year, or when I went through that little streak, where I was swinging the bat well and I was swinging at good pitches, swinging at pitches that were in the zone. I got away from that for a while there, so hopefully I can take some of this momentum and carry it over."
STARRY NIGHT: Longoria is the only Ray in the top five of All-Star fan voting at his position, according to Monday's first update, currently fourth at 454,047, trailing the Rangers' Adrian Beltre (600,271), the Orioles' Manny Machado (723,943) and the overall vote leader, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (1,500,165). Fans can vote at mlb.com.
MISCELLANY: The Rays' top prospect, Triple-A Durham OF Wil Myers, was named International League player of the week after hitting four homers with 15 RBIs. … The Rays plan to recognize the Division II national champion University of Tampa baseball team before Friday's game. … The start time for the June 23 game against the Yankees in New York is 2:05 p.m.