ST. PETERSBURG — OF Sam Fuld said the Rays were certainly aware last year, especially when Evan Longoria missed 85 games with a hamstring injury, how important the third baseman is.
But Fuld said as they've watched Longoria carry the team the past few weeks, including hitting a two-run, walkoff homer in Saturday's 8-7 win, "it's an even bigger reminder."
The Rays aren't the only one to notice, as Longoria was named the American League player of the week Monday. He hit .464 with three homers and 11 RBI in seven games, helping spark a five-game winning streak heading into tonight's series opener with the Red Sox.
The three-time All-Star not only leads Tampa Bay in homers (nine) and RBIs (26), he ranks in the top 10 in the American League in batting average (.333), on-base percentage (.403) and slugging percentage (.610).
"I am in one of those modes right now where it seems like no matter what they throw up there, I'm seeing every pitch pretty well," said Longoria, who has won the award six times in his career. "And even when I get to two strikes, I don't really feel like I'm too antsy or I'm going to swing at a bad pitch. I'm pretty patient and relaxed up there."
Manager Joe Maddon said Longoria is "really on top of his offensive game," with a key being plate discipline. Longoria also said he's seeing better pitches with 1B James Loney, who's batting .376, hitting behind him.
Longoria said his main focus has been staying healthy, and letting his preparation — which hitting coach Derek Shelton said is as good as anyone he has ever been around — take care of itself. But Shelton said Longoria seems as locked in at the plate as he was in September 2011, when he racked up a major-league most 27 RBI to lead the Rays to an improbable wild card berth.
"If he's not comparable, he's probably better," Shelton said. "Because of the fact I think the older he gets, the better his pitch selection is, and I think the one thing we've seen him do is we have seen him stay in the strike zone. Even the times he's making outs, he's on the barrel of the bat. And when you're doing things like that, you're doing a good job."
MORE MOORE: LHP Matt Moore could make history tonight, as he has the chance to be the first Ray to start a season 7-0. He could also tie LHP David Price's club record by winning his eighth straight decision (dating to Sept. 29).
Moore said he still wants to get better, having lasted seven or more innings in just one of his seven starts. "If I was going nine innings and throwing up all zeros, there wouldn't be much room to improve," he said. "But there's always something we're focused on working toward, getting to a place where we can work deep into games."
NO JAKIN': Throughout LHP Jake McGee's early struggles, Maddon has insisted there's nothing wrong with him. But McGee said throwing back-to-back perfect outings has still helped his confidence.
"It's been good to go out there and have some one-two-three innings instead of battling through every inning I pitch," McGee said. "It's nice to get ahead of hitters. I've been doing that lately, have them put the ball in play."
The key for McGee has been better location, missing away with his fastball as opposed to missing over the plate. Said RHP Joel Peralta: "I know that when he gets going, he's going to be unstoppable."
MINOR MATTERS: The Rays signed RHP Cory Wade to a minor-league deal and assigned him to Triple-A Durham. Wade, 30, was in Rays camp in 2011 and started the season in Durham, but had an opt-out clause and was given his release. He ended up signing with the Yankees, spending the past two seasons there. Wade was 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA in 10 games with Triple-A Iowa this year.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.