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Rays say Longoria is healing well

Rookie Evan Longoria's fractured right wrist is healing well, and the Rays should know better within a week how soon the All-Star third baseman will return to the field.

Longoria, hit by a pitch Aug. 7, had another X-ray on Monday. The Rays are hoping he can return for the Sept. 2-4 series with the Yankees.

"Things are progressing well," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "He's going to work his way back into baseball activities, and we should know more at the end of the week as far as next steps."

Closer Troy Percival, on the disabled list with cartilage damage in his right knee, played long toss Monday, and Friedman said it went well. The right-hander, 39, said last week that he was hoping to be ready to return when he's eligible to come off the DL on Saturday.

In a stretch with Longoria, Percival and Carl Crawford (tendon injury in finger) on the DL, the Rays are 9-4, with six Rays having a winning RBI.

'Zo-Rilla' time: By taking a more powerful approach at the plate, Ben Zobrist has gone from a slapper to a slugger.

The utilityman, in his fourth stint with the Rays this season, hit his sixth homer of the season Friday in just 127 at-bats. Before this year, Zobrist had 22 home runs in 1,531 professional at-bats.

Zobrist said part of the reason is that he's seeing the ball better and getting more chances to hit after recovering from early season thumb and shoulder injuries. And when he's sizing a pitch up, he's swinging harder, and with more confidence.

His power surge has manager Joe Maddon referring to him sometimes as "Zo-Rilla."

"I have the body to be able to drive the ball, but I was just slapping the ball up there," said Zobrist, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound Eureka, Ill., native. "Because I grew up, I was a lot smaller, and I grew up doing that, and it was always successful for me. But this year, I've tried to get a hold of some balls and be more aggressive at the plate."

Although Zobrist is hitting .236 in his part-time role, it's a big improvement over last year, when he hit .155 in 31 games. Zobrist, groomed as the Rays' superutilityman this spring, has played a bigger role, spreading 33 starts over five positions, including two starts last weekend against left-handers. With Crawford out until at least late September, he could get even more opportunities.

"If you had 10 positions every day, you could pop him in there every day," Maddon said. "I like the idea he's so versatile, and I feel very comfortable playing him anywhere. If you combine that with what he's doing offensively, he's making himself an interesting player.

"He came up as a shortstop, but he's swinging the bat like a corner guy."

Well-rested: RHP James Shields starts tonight on seven days' rest — thanks to a couple of off days — and said that the break couldn't have come at a better time.

The workhorse, who boasts three of the Rays' seven complete games, has pitched 171 innings after tossing 215 a year ago.

"I think, right now, I need (the break)," Shields said. "I've never really went through the midseason 'dead arm' stuff, so hopefully it's just a little rest period. I feel really good right now."

Miscellany: The Rays and Ripken Baseball will hold a news conference Wednesday in Port Charlotte to announce their new partnership. Cal Ripken and team president Matt Silverman will be on hand at 2:30 p.m. at Charlotte County Sports Park. The Rays will move their Class A Florida State League team from Vero Beach to Port Charlotte next season. … RHP Andy Sonnanstine will join 120 Osceola Middle School students in a pep rally about math at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Rays say Longoria is healing well 08/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 5:06pm]

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