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Rays enjoying Loney's hot start

James Loney, a career .282 hitter, is flirting with .400 early.

Associated Press

James Loney, a career .282 hitter, is flirting with .400 early.

TAMPA — As 3B Evan Longoria passed 1B James Loney's locker before Monday's game, he jokingly called him "Teddy Williams."

Williams, the Red Sox's Hall of Fame leftfielder, was the last player to finish a season hitting .400 (.406 in 1941). Loney smiled at the historic reference, but he isn't getting ahead of himself, even though his teammates are in awe of his red-hot start.

Loney entered Monday with a .398 average and a major league-most seven three-hit games. A third-inning double Monday put Loney, temporarily, at .400, and he finished 1-for-4 for a .391 average.

"Offensively, I don't know if I've seen anybody this hot in a long time," manager Joe Maddon said. "Every time he swings, it's missing somebody, it's kind of nice. Very calm, very professional, very confident."

Said C Jose Lobaton: "It's unbelievable."

Loney, a career .282 hitter who is in his first season with Tampa Bay, said the key is keeping it simple. Though he has just one home run, he pointed out he has never hit more than 15 in his seven previous big-league seasons.

"I'm getting good pitches right now, and even when they're making some tough pitches, I'm able to square them up," Loney said. "Just find some holes. I'm just having fun."

Maddon has also enjoyed Loney's play defensively.

"We've been around some pretty good first basemen and he's playing at a really, really high level," Maddon said. "He's instilled a lot of confidence in our defense on the field. It's been fun to watch."

FOR SHORT: SS Yunel Escobar, expected to be sidelined until at least Wednesday due to a bruised left hand, felt good enough after a Monday afternoon workout to enter the game as a defensive replacement in the sixth.

But Escobar had a rough night, allowing a soft liner by J.P. Arencibia to bounce off his glove for a single in the eighth, then booting a potential inning-ending double play ball up the middle three hitters later.

"Kind of a routine play," Maddon said. "Yunel makes that play almost 100 out of 99 times. It's unfortunate."

Escobar, who was hit in the hand by a pitch Saturday, had it wrapped Monday, and Maddon acknowledged he might have been "favoring it" on the soft liner. But Maddon didn't believe he came back too soon.

"Everybody was convinced — including him — he was fine," Maddon said.

Maddon said the Rays will get Ben Zobrist back today. He missed two games due to the death of his grandmother.

NOT SO MINOR MATTERS: Rays top pitching prospect RHP Chris Archer was scratched from Monday's start for Triple-A Durham due to what the team called a minor right calf contusion that was suffered in his last outing.

Archer said it was a "deep bruise" but doesn't believe it'll keep him out long. "I just need a few more days to get it back to full strength," he said. Archer is 4-1 with a 4.06 ERA in six starts for the Bulls this season.

Another top prospect, RHP Jake Odorizzi, was named International League pitcher of the week Monday, one day after throwing seven hitless innings for Triple-A Durham in the team's combined no-hitter.

MISCELLANY: RHPs Fernando Rodney (37 pitches Monday) and Joel Peralta (22) are likely not available tonight. … Alex Cobb and Jamey Wright will visit All Children's Hospital from 10-11:30 a.m. today as part of Rays Kids' Spirits Day.

Rays enjoying Loney's hot start 05/06/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 9, 2013 10:07am]

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