Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Longoria answers questions with bounceback season

BALTIMORE

As Evan Longoria posted 2014-15 seasons of declining production before turning 30, people sitting in the stands, watching from the press box and working for other teams wondered if his best years were behind him.

The Rays' veteran third baseman was aware of the dialogue, and the doubts. He was more concerned about a different perspective.

"At the end of every year when the numbers don't look like they have in the past, there are always questions of can you repeat it, are you still the player you were," Longoria said.

"I've never been one to pay attention to what other people say. I don't read a lot into what people write or listen to what people say.

"But there are always voices in your own head, and to be able to answer those questions to yourself is the most important thing."

Longoria has answered them and then some, posting career highs with 35 homers and 311 total bases, with a chance to surpass his previous bests in hits (six shy of 169) and extra-base hits (three shy of 77). He is six RBIs from reaching 100 for the third time.

Given that Longoria's prior homer high came in 2009, that he hadn't driven in more than 91 runs since 2011 and that he turned 30 at the end of last season, there has been much to be impressed with.

For Longoria, it has been the consistency of quality at-bats.

"It's felt like even when I was making outs, they were good at-bats," he said. "I haven't gone long stretches where it's been a bunch of noncompetitive at-bats in a row. I've never really given the opposing pitcher or teams an opportunity to say this guy is a free out right now. I feel like I've competed every at-bat and not given too many of them away."

So what has impressed others watching the most? Here is a sampling:

Opposing manager

Baltimore's Buck Showalter: "If I was a Tampa Bay fan, I'd be real proud of him. This guy posts up every day and plays with intensity. There's nothing beneath him, if that makes any sense. He's a teammate, he's a contributor, and he never takes anything offense-to-defense, defense-to-offense. Just a smart baserunner. … He positions himself real well. He never has a noncompetitive day. That's hard to do. He's been through some challenges, and I really respect the way he goes about his business. They're lucky to have him."

Understudy

Rays rookie INF Richie Shaffer: "Without being annoying, I've tried to be Longo's shadow every time I come up just because he's the kind of guy I aspire to be. He does things the right way every single day. He works his butt off. He plays the game the right way. He's a great leader in terms of that consistent presence. He commands the respect of the whole clubhouse. …

"A year like this has been a long time coming for him. He's one of the most talented players in the league, and I know that he's been catching flak the past couple years, for whatever reason. Also, he's an absolute warrior. He plays through everything, and that's really impressive to watch."

New hitting coach

Chad Mottola: "The way he gets the barrel to the ball — his hands are special. He's changed a little bit in his setup this year, shortened things up. It's been fun to watch. And he leads by example."

Teammates

1B/SS Brad Miller: "It's crazy because he obviously has set the bar high to begin with, so to raise his own level of play is awesome. He's so consistent. He's everything you want in a cornerstone player. The way he comes to the park — he's the first one here, he's in his routine, he's getting ready, he's preparing. So I don't think it's coincidence he goes out and performs well just by how well he prepares. … He honestly is everything I was expecting. He seems like he's perfect and he pretty much is."

2B Logan Forsythe: "His consistent leadership. … He always finds a way to get out there and play every day — I've seen him hurt, I've seen him sick. … He did something this year mechanically with his swing where last year he was kind of fighting in between, and he still had a great year. But the career year he is having this year, he made an adjustment at the plate and he actually stuck with it. Watching him do that, it's good for younger guys to look at, that what you're doing doesn't always work. And he's a prime example. He changed his stance, his positioning of his hands and his feet, the width of his stance. And it's paid off. He's shown sometimes you have to make an adjustment in this game, and it's paid off big."

Former opponent

Former White Sox, now Rays INF Alexei Ramirez, via interpreter: "I played against him as a competitor for eight years; in the short time that I've been here I've been able to see that he's a good teammate, he's in a certain class of player. … What stands out to me is just the way he prepares for the game — what he does in here, when he shows up, the things he does on the field. … He really goes out of his way to be a good teammate."

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

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