Monday, September 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Evan Longoria says he needs to improve in final month

CHICAGO — The player with the longest tenure, most respect, lengthiest resume and highest salary stood in the clubhouse the other day talking freely in calling out the Ray who has to most step up his play over the final month for them to make the playoffs.

"I've got to play better, simple as that," Evan Longoria said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to be that guy. And sometimes just being on the field isn't enough.

"Hitting third in the lineup the whole year, and my numbers are probably some of the worst that they've been in my career."

It's not that the .264 average, 17 homers, 72 RBIs and .752 OPS he has after Friday's 3-1 win over the White Sox are that fallow.

It's just that he expected this year to be more like last year, when he .273 with a career-high 36 homers, 98 RBIs and an .839 OPS.

That it hasn't been has Longoria doubting his methods if not himself, wondering why, pondering thoughts and ideas and second-guessing everything from his offseason training schedule to his spring workout routine to his diet, with a full audit and evaluation looming in the winter.

"All those things go through my mind," Longoria said. "And it seems like it all goes through at one time. I can't really process it until I sit back."

Plus, he has more immediate concerns.

Like putting a good September finish on what has been such a disappointing season.

"I think and believe I'm due to have a good month," Longoria said. "Historically I've been pretty good in September. I believe I can do it still."

That he still has the confidence should be reassuring to the Rays for several reasons, not the least of which is that Longoria is just 31, and still has five years and a guaranteed $86 million remaining on his contract, plus a 2023 option.

Longoria is somewhat mystified overall over his lack of production, which includes going into play Friday on a career-long home run drought, 103 at-bats and a full month, going to Aug. 1 when he hit for the cycle in Houston.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm not one for excuses. I say it all the time, last year I wish I could bottle that formula and say this is what you've got to do every year and it's just as easy as that.

"I'm frustrated. I've dealt with little nags (injury issues), but I don't think it has anything to do with health. I just haven't gotten on a run. My numbers, in the grand scheme of things, they're disappointing. They're very disappointing for me. But I try not to beat myself up over them. I'm more concerned with what I can do on a daily basis."

Even in saying that, he acknowledges the mental battles that rage in his head, how there's "been a lot of searching" days when he resorts to "trying to trick" himself in feeling better about his performance.

As much as he realizes he can't try to hit home runs, the longer the drought goes he ends up trying harder. As much as he knows to focus on what he can do, he finds himself comparing his production to others, noting, for example, how Phillies rookie Rhys Hoskins was "making it look easy" with his career-starting homer barrage.

"It's easy to really start to get down on yourself really quickly when you look at these other things," he said.

A strong September won't erase the frustration from this season for Longoria.

But it will definitely help.

"From a selfish standpoint and from a personal standpoint, I think if that happens we have a legitimate chance to be in the playoffs," he said. "I think everybody should feel that way. Everybody in this clubhouse should believe they are going to have the best month that they've had all year. … That means we're going to have a pretty good shot of going on a run and getting to the playoffs if we all do what we're capable of."

And that starts with him.

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