ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon loves the way RHP Brandon Gomes has been throwing, saying "he's a major-league relief pitcher right now."
But with the Rays needing another hitter heading into interleague series in Washington and Philadelphia, Gomes was the odd man out, optioned to Triple-A Durham after Sunday's 3-0 win over the Marlins.
Maddon said a position player will be called up by Tuesday's game against the Nationals but doubts it will be injured 3B Evan Longoria (partially torn left hamstring) or INF Jeff Keppinger (broken right toe), both of whom are with Durham on rehab assignments.
Gomes understood the decision — a "numbers crunch" — and was encouraged by how he has been feeling and pitching. He said he has improved "leaps and bounds" since his April-May stint in the majors, when he was still working his way back from offseason back surgery. Gomes was called up Friday and struck out the side in the ninth, but on Saturday he took the loss, allowing one run over two innings in a 4-3 15-inning defeat.
"I'm back to where I was last year," Gomes said. "I'm just going to keep progressing and stay sharp while I'm down there, and hopefully I'll be back up here sometime soon."
Maddon saw better deception in Gomes' delivery, the ball coming out of his hand quicker, and believes Gomes will return.
"By the end of this season, he's going to be rolling," Maddon said. "He's going to help us a lot."
MEDICAL MATTERS: Longoria had a scheduled day off in his rehab assignment. He went 1-for-4 as DH Saturday and could play the field today for the Bulls. Keppinger went 0-for-1 as DH for Durham, including three walks. That led a surprised Maddon to smile and say, "You need to look up the last time that's happened — it might have been Little League."
DH Luke Scott (back spasms) took 30 swings Saturday and said "everything went well." He hit off a tee Sunday.
BOUNCE BACK: DH/OF Hideki Matsui had a rough series against the Marlins, going 0-for-15 overall and on Sunday hitting into two double plays.
But Matsui, who is hitting .160 in 14 games with the Rays, isn't deterred, believing he has had many good at-bats.
"It's just going to happen over the course of a season," Matsui said through interpreter Roger Kahlon said. "The important thing is to not beat yourself down in any way, just stay positive and grind it out."
Maddon says Matsui has been hitting the ball hard but has been "very unlucky."
"Which means he's going to be very lucky very soon," Maddon said. "It corrects itself."
PEñA POP: 1B Carlos Peña's bat came to life in the final two games of the series. He picked up four hits, with his double in the fifth inning Sunday his first extra-base hit since June 1.
Peña had totaled four hits in 38 previous at-bats in June. Maddon has said that when Peña walks, he hits, and his four-walk game Friday appears to have sparked him, reorganizing his strike zone.
"A walk gets you on base; it's common sense, but it's so easy to let your desire to swing the bat and hit get in the way of accepting a walk if they're being too careful with you," Peña said. "And maybe a pitcher will start being more aggressive and pitch in the strike zone and then maybe you can put a hurt on the ball."
CLOSE CALL: RHP James Shields got himself out of some tough spots in a solid performance Saturday. But Shields' best maneuver might have been somehow avoiding LF Logan Morrison's hot-shot liner up the middle in the fifth, which just missed the veteran starter.
"That was about an inch away from hitting my jaw," Shields said. "Then I thought I almost caught it. I was glad to get out of the way. That would not have been good. It definitely was not in slow motion."