ST. PETERSBURG — The sweetness of sweeping the Red Sox didn't last long as the Rays lost SS Jason Bartlett through at least the All-Star break with a sprained right knee.
Bartlett, placed on the 15-day DL on Thursday, has been a huge part of the Rays' vastly improved defense, and it will take two men — at least initially — to replace him as Ben Zobrist and Reid Brignac were called up from Triple-A Durham.
Zobrist looks to be the primary starter with Brignac, a 22-year-old top prospect, insurance for Zobrist's previously sore right shoulder. Evan Longoria will remain at third base.
"We're confident that (Zobrist's) fine but not sure he's going to be able to play every day," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "This allows us to play some matchups and to be in position to have an extra infielder ready."
It also means the Rays will carry only six relievers as RHP Mitch Talbot, called up Tuesday to work in long relief, was sent down. Friedman said if the need for more pitching arises in the 10 games before the July 14-17 All-Star break, they would make a move. He didn't expect RHP Al Reyes to be ready before then.
Bartlett was hurt sliding when stealing third at the start of Wednesday's six-run seventh-inning rally though he finished the game, singling in two runs in his next at-bat then making a throwing error in the ninth. The Rays were concerned he was hurt more seriously and were relieved with Thursday's diagnosis.
Though Bartlett's 11 errors are second most among AL shortstops, he is a prime reason for the team's improvement.
"It's tough," Friedman said. "Obviously, our defense has been a big part of our success to date, and Jason's been right in the middle of that."
Zobrist has been called up twice this season, hitting .292 with homers in back-to-back games in Miami last week. Brignac will make his big-league debut. He hit .265 with seven homers, 24 doubles and 28 RBIs for the Bulls.
CODE BLUE: The Rays — in another sign of how things have changed — are guarding against a letdown for this weekend's series with the struggling Royals, similar to how they lost two of three to Houston after sweeping the Cubs.
"We saw it earlier," DH Cliff Floyd said. "We didn't play up to our potential. The fans weren't there; whatever the case may be, no excuses. So hopefully, we learned something from that."
With small crowds and an odd schedule — starting times of 5:10, 7:10, 1:40 and 12:40 — the atmosphere is going to be vastly different than the Red Sox games.
"Hopefully, we'll play the way we're capable of playing," Floyd said. "As much as you always ask for a little break in the schedule, you've got to be careful."
MISCELLANY: The Red Sox hadn't been swept twice in a season by the same team since the Yankees in 2001. … The Rays are 12-1 in front of 30,000-plus at the Trop, 14-2 before 25,000 or more, and manager Joe Maddon said he wants fans to know their support matters. … The Rays reported another night of record TV ratings Wednesday with an 11 p.m. peak of a 23 share, meaning one-fourth of TVs in the Tampa Bay area were tuned in. … A day after Talbot was called up, Durham RHP Jeff Niemann threw his first career complete game, striking out 12 while allowing one run on seven hits. … The Rays' seven sweeps are second most in the majors. The White Sox have eight.