ST. PETERSBURG — Steven Souza Jr. was back in the Rays lineup Wednesday and, wouldn't you know it, hustled at every turn, so at least they had that.
The Rays continued their franchise-worst spiral, the 7-2 defeat to the Angels their 18th in the past 21 games and 50th overall in a season barely half over, though pretty much done.
But the fallout from Souza being pulled from Tuesday's game for not running out a fly ball held promise in terms of some fundamental improvements, though they did not show up yet.
Manager Kevin Cash called a meeting of the position players Wednesday afternoon and made it clear they need to do more things the right way and less wrong, both physically and mentally.
"We've got to start doing some things better," Cash said. "We have to do a better job of running the bases. Little things that maybe don't come into play as far as the physical part of the game, more the mental side. I think the guys did a good job of understanding that and owning that. And hopefully that's something that we'll take from it and continue to improve upon."
Though Souza has not been the only transgressor, he was the one Cash made an example of, pinning him with a lasting label that stands in contradiction to his usual style of all-out play.
But Souza said he was okay with that if it helped get the team turned around.
"If this gets us headed toward a new identity, then that's a good thing," he said. "I think we can build from this. We can do the little things, run the bases, catch balls, all that stuff, and kind of build momentum toward that. …
"I thought (Cash) did a great job handling that and talking to us and getting our attention, that this is the way we're going to build now."
Cash declined again to discuss details of his decision, saying he considered the matter now closed. But he praised Souza for the stand-up way he admitted and took blame for his actions in postgame interviews, "really impressed with how he's carried himself."
Souza said that he hopes that attitude also can spur positive change.
"I think we need some accountability as a unit," he said. "And if this heads us in that direction, then that's awesome."
Third baseman Evan Longoria, the veteran team leader, is also hoping some good comes out of the Souza situation and praised Cash for his handling of it.
"I think his feel has been really good in picking the right moment to kind of say enough is enough, or this is the time where we should make a move and try to turn this thing around," Longoria said.
"There's been situations throughout the course of the year where we've either missed a sign or not gone first to third or not gone hard down the line or run hard on a pop fly. I've probably been guilty of it once or twice, and there's probably been five (to) 10 other guys in here that have done it from time to time.
"So I think what Cash was saying was that we're not singling out Souza, it just so happened that that was the moment. And I think everything surrounding it as far as the way we're playing led to it being the moment."
Overall, Longoria said the effort level hasn't sagged despite the extended skid. "We go out and play the game hard," he said. "We're just not playing it well."
That was the case again Wednesday, in an all-around display of bad.
Drew Smyly put the Rays behind early in yet another rough outing, they were held to one hit into the fifth by soft-tossing Jered Weaver, they committed three errors and a few other misplays, and they made questionable decisions on the bases.
"We're not winning, we're not playing well, I didn't pitch well, we didn't defend well, we didn't hit well," Smyly said. "It starts with me. I've got to put up zeroes. At the same time it does seem like every ball that comes off the bat somehow finds a hole. And I let it spiral out of control, and that's on me. I don't know."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.