Sunday, February 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Mental, physical changes helping Rays' Longoria rebound

ST. PETERSBURG — Evan Longoria has had the journal in his locker for years, using it for typically no more than scribbling fantasy football tips.

But this spring, at the instruction of Howard Falco, the "peak performance coach" the Rays brought into camp, Longoria grabbed a pen and got busy.

First, Longoria, for the first time he can remember, wrote out the key statistics for each year of his career to provide a base. Then, his assignment was to jot down specific numerical goals for this season, such as how many home runs he could hit.

Falco's theory was to give it permanence on paper as a point of reference to look at during the season and, more importantly, to get Longoria to think aggressively and aim high.

"It's really the first time I've ever done it," Longoria said. "In talking to Howard Falco … about making some mental changes and the possibility of things if you really believe it, and for me, he said to write some numbers down and you'll be shocked at the end of the year."

Longoria won't yet reveal his target, but with 31 homers in the books and his career high of 33, set seven years ago, clearly in sight, it seems that the exercise has paid off.

And, if anything, that Longoria may have aimed too low.

"The number I wrote down was a little bit higher than 30, so if I can get to that number I wrote down — it wasn't 40, but 40, I feel like, if I have a great month it's definitely attainable," Longoria said. "I don't want to put a limit on what's possible."

There is much more, of course, that has gone into what may end up, at age 30, being the best of Longoria's nine seasons with the Rays.

He has been healthy pretty much all season, playing in 132 of their 134 games, which is obviously atop the list. He came into camp more flexible after reincorporating yoga and other exercises into his winter regimen. He stayed stronger and kept on weight throughout the summer by incorporating more weightlifting into his in-season workouts.

Then he made another change, deciding that the best way to get back to his past success was to stop focusing on rediscovering his old swing.

No longer would Longoria watch video from years past and ask the coaches to help get him back to that form.

Instead, he would simply go with what felt best that day.

And what seemed like a physical adjustment improved his mental game as well.

"It's been great — it's been so much less stressful for me," Longoria said. "I haven't really looked at the past at all this year, which is great. Usually in years when I had struggles, especially last year when I was looking at video from like 2010, 2011.

"But that's not me now. You like to think you can repeat past successes based on just the physical nature of what you do. But a lot of times it's just not that. It's here (in your head), a lot of it. And that belief is powerful enough."

Doing so has also allowed him to stay more positive, away from the extended struggles so deep that he used to say he felt so lost at the plate, it was as if he had never swung a bat.

"Whatever happened in the past offensively wasn't going to happen this year," Longoria said. "And if I started to struggle, that I wasn't going to let those thoughts creep in and those negative thoughts impact the next day. And it's just really helped me this year."

By being so willing to adjust, Longoria said he has felt comfortable pretty much all season, evidenced by his overall production behind the 31 homers — a .282 average, 84 RBIs and .868 on-base plus slugging percentage.

"It's one of my better ones," he said. "I feel like I really haven't had a prolonged stretch where I've felt lost. I feel like I've put together a good plan of attack day to day with pitchers. …

"As far as stepping into the box and facing good pitching, my approach overall has been about as clear (as it's been). I feel like I'm understanding my swing a lot better and I'm understanding how I'm getting pitched and it's made a big difference this year."

Just check the numbers, whatever they are.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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