ST. PETERSBURG — For the first time since his mid-June promotion, RF Wil Myers was not in the Rays lineup Tuesday.
Manager Joe Maddon had wanted to give the touted 22-year-old rookie a breather and planned on doing it Thursday. But Maddon was also looking to get OF Kelly Johnson in the lineup, and Tuesday provided the best matchup.
Myers, hitting .161 (5-for-31) over his past eight games, welcomed the break. "It just gives me a chance to catch my breath a little bit," he said.
It also gave Myers a chance to work on what he called a minor flaw in his swing, which has resulted in his mini-slump following a strong start (.296 in his first 13 games). Myers, who spent about a half-hour before Tuesday's game taking batting practice with hitting coach Derek Shelton, said his swing has felt a little long the past few days, so he worked on staying through the inside pitch and staying tall.
"I've got some really good pitches to hit, some pitches out over the plate," he said. "I just haven't been able to connect on them right now. There's a little flaw in my swing. Once I figure that out, I feel like I'll start taking off again."
Maddon said he's not worried but believed the day on the bench could help going forward. Myers has three homers, and his 13 RBIs are the most in Rays history through 21 career games. But Myers, who has hit several balls near the warning track this past week, believes he's just missing his pitch.
"I feel very close," Myers said. "That's why it's kind of frustrating, because I'm just a tick off. It's one of those things. People go through ups and downs. It's just nice to have a mental day off."
BOUNCING BACK: RHP Jeremy Hellickson thinks he's finally hitting his groove, having won his past four starts, tying the longest such streak of his career. "It's been as good as I've seen him in a while," Maddon said.
Maddon has been most impressed by how Hellickson has bounced back from his early troubles. Hellickson won twice in the first two months, allowing five runs or more in five of his first 11 starts, and Maddon said it may have been the first time as a professional the right-hander had struggled that much.
"I've struggled, but not to that extent," Hellickson said. "It was five, six starts where I felt like every time out, (the Rays) were up 4, 5, 8, 9 to nothing and before you know it, they were right back in the game, and it was like that for about a month. I just had to keep grinding, keep working and things came around. So hopefully they stay this way."
Maddon said Hellickson never made excuses during his tough stretch, accepting his suggestions game planning-wise. Hellickson said he has felt good the entire time, he's just now keeping his walks — and fastball — down and making big pitches at the right time.
"I'm just pitching better," he said.
LONGO LEGS: It appears 3B Evan Longoria's plantar fasciitis in his right foot has improved, as he started his fifth straight game at third base, and Maddon doesn't plan to rest him the rest of the homestand. Maddon said as long as Longoria feels good, he'll play third (even in Thursday's day game). But Longoria has struggled at the plate, hitting .125 (5-for-40) over his past 13 games with no extra-base hits over that stretch, matching the longest drought of his career.
HIS NICHE: LHP Alex Torres was sharp in appearing on back-to-back nights for the first time, striking out two in a perfect seventh. Maddon said Torres, with an 0.35 ERA in 14 outings, may have found his "niche" in the bullpen. "I love what he's doing," Maddon said. "We're at the point I don't mind bringing him in to face anybody in any situation."
MISCELLANY: St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said he had an hour-long phone conversation Tuesday with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg. … Maddon said he hasn't heard anything about LHP Matt Moore potentially being added to the All-Star team.