MIAMI — The Rays talk a lot about winning series, and they have done a good job of it.
But sweeps are always sweeter, and Thursday, three games before the midpoint of their schedule, they recorded their sixth, surpassing their record in any of their previous full 10 seasons.
"When you get the first two, you really want to finish the whole thing off," manager Joe Maddon said. "And that matters. That's the one step that can keep you toasty going into the next series obviously, and that's what you're looking for."
They did it for the first time this season on the road, where they are a respectable 17-18.
"We have to build. To get where we want to be, you have to win these road games in tough environments, and it's a wonderful first step," Maddon said.
"The more you win on the road, obviously the more you believe you can. … It's just a mind-set, and we've got to create that mind-set."
The Rays hit another first Thursday — 16 games over .500 at 47-31.
HELP ON THE WAY: The Rays expect to have both 1B Carlos Pena and SS Jason Bartlett back in their lineup tonight, though they are unsure about the status of 2B Akinori Iwamura
Pena, who went 0-for-4 with an RBI and a walk in his rehab appearance for Class A Vero at Sarasota on Thursday, will likely be activated off the DL; he has been out since June 4 with a fractured left index finger. Bartlett is scheduled to rejoin the team after Wednesday's birth of his son.
It would seem INF Ben Zobrist — who homered in both games filling in for Bartlett — would be sent back to Triple A to make room for Pena, but team officials said there were other options, and they would announce the move today.
Iwamura's status is dependent on whether MLB announces a ruling on his appeal of a three-game suspension.
EVAN ALMIGHTY: 3B Evan Longoria hit his team-high 14th homer, an impressive drive to right-center. He has the second most for a Rays rookie in a season; Jonny Gomes had 21 in 2005. Longoria also had his fourth three-hit game of the season and tied Carl Crawford for the team RBI lead with 43.
LESS IS MORE: Maddon thinks Scott Kazmir, who takes the mound tonight winless in his last three starts, can be more successful by doing less on the mound. The idea is that Kazmir's recent control problems are the result of trying to throw too hard.
"It's almost like if he could pitch at 90 percent, you're still going to the very good stuff but with a better idea of where the ball is going," he said. "And then when you want that little bit more, … it will be there within the strike zone."
MINOR MATTERS: Thursday was a big night in the minors. Last year's No. 1 overall draft pick, LHP David Price, gave up four hits, two earned runs and had seven strikeouts through six innings in his first start since being promoted to Double-A Montgomery, and this year's top pick, Tim Beckham singled up the middle on his first at-bat and later scored in his pro debut as the DH for rookie-level Princeton (W.Va.). … Biscuits reliever Eduardo Morlan was selected for the World team in the All-Star Futures Game, the only Rays representative.
MISCELLANY: Maddon said he talked again to CF B.J. Upton about taking more charge of balls hit into the gaps. … Shawn Riggans played for the first time in his native South Florida and just missed a grand slam on a drive to deepest center. … Iwamura was disappointed about making his first error of the season on Wednesday night and said it "was like striking out 10 times." His streak of 74 errorless games was sixth longest to start in season in more than 50 years. … OF Rocco Baldelli was 0-for-1 with a groundout at Vero on Thursday, continuing his rehab assignment.