Lefty specialist Randy Choate delivers in another big situation for Tampa Bay Rays

TAKING A BREAK: Evan Longoria, shown last month, is likely to get frequent rests until his hamstring is 100 percent.

Associated Press

TAKING A BREAK: Evan Longoria, shown last month, is likely to get frequent rests until his hamstring is 100 percent.

TORONTO — Another night and, as manager Joe Maddon said, "another big moment for Randy Choate."

There have been plenty of them in the past month for Choate, 33. The left-hander spent most of the past two years in the minors but has made the most of his opportunities since getting called up in late May.

Choate entered Tuesday's game in the eighth with two on, one out and the tying run at the plate and retired two tough lefties, Adam Lind on a strikeout and Lyle Overbay on a flyout.

"That," Maddon said, "was awesome."

Choate has dominated left-handed hitters, who are 1-for-22 against him this season. He has gotten the big outs, from Ryan Howard to Joe Mauer, and considering he entered this season having not recorded a big-league out since Oct. 1, 2006, it has been particularly impressive.

Choate, who had zero saves in his first 198 appearances, has four in his past 14, earning the nickname "Mo," after Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, from his teammates.

"He's been throwing strikes with deception," Maddon said. "That's what makes him tough."

getting a break: 3B Evan Longoria wasn't in the starting lineup, and Maddon plans to rest him more often "until you start seeing a little more improvement" in his sore left hamstring.

Longoria, who missed six starts in early June due to hamstring tightness and another last week when he felt discomfort again, has said his leg hasn't been 100 percent since. He pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in the eighth inning Tuesday and hit a long flyout to right.

Maddon likes to pick his spots to rest players, and with right-handed hitters batting .189 against Blue Jays RHP Scott Richmond, Tuesday "seemed like the right time." Longoria is expected to return today in the series finale.

"He's fine, he can play," Maddon said. "Under different circumstances, he'd be out there tonight. It's not going to be 100 percent until he really gets some legitimate rest on it. But until then, just try to do the best we can to minimize the impact of it."

Willy Aybar started at third, his second start in as many days, and hit a solo homer in the sixth.

SAME OLD JAMES: Though it may not be showing up in RHP James Shields' win total, he has been pitching well this past month, even when he doesn't have his best stuff.

Shields has a staff-best 10 quality starts, and the Rays have won five of his past six starts. He is 3-1 with a 3.05 ERA in that stretch. "Quality starts are huge; if you get quality starts, you're gonna end up eventually winning some ballgames," he said.

CRUNCH TIME: Longoria and LF Carl Crawford are involved in close races as voting for the AL All-Star team comes down to the final days.

Crawford is fifth among outfielders with 1,442,175 votes in the latest totals released Tuesday, though less than 200,000 behind third-place holder Josh Hamilton (1,635,781). Another problem for Crawford is that the Angels' Torii Hunter is between him and Hamilton (with 1,490,800). Hamilton has been on the DL but is rehabbing and said he plans to play if elected.

Longoria (2,988,363) remains the leader by a large margin over Alex Rodriguez for the starting spot at third and is also in the running to surpass Yankees SS Derek Jeter (3,046,813) as the leading vote-getter.

Among other Rays, Jason Bartlett is a distant second (1,419,499) to Jeter at shortstop and Carlos Peña (767,088) finally made it into the top five among first basemen.

MINOR MATTERS: RHP Andy Sonnanstine, optioned to Triple-A Durham Friday to make room for LHP Scott Kazmir, will make his first start for the Bulls Thursday against Charlotte. … Four Montgomery players made the Southern League All-Star team: RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Eddie Morlan, OF Desmond Jennings and 1B Rhyne Hughes. Jennings will be unavailable due to his selection to the All-Star Futures Game in St. Louis.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

Lefty specialist Randy Choate delivers in another big situation for Tampa Bay Rays 06/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 6:47am]

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