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Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria builds his case to play more third base

ST. PETERSBURG — Evan Longoria has been hoping to return to third base on a regular basis, and in Thursday's 5-0 win over the A's he made a couple of strong defensive plays that show he's getting closer.

In the fifth inning, Longoria darted to his right to grab a hard-hit chopper down the line by Derek Norris, then made a throw on the run to second to get the force out.

Then in the seventh, Longoria snagged a rocket short-hopper by Yoenis Cespedes and easily tossed him out at first.

"The ball Cespedes hit was an amazing play," manager Joe Maddon said. "The ball down the line with the accurate throw to second base, we've seen that a lot. He's so able to throw accurately on the run to second basemen covering. All that stuff for him, he's got to feel good about that mentally, he feels like he can do that stuff again."

Longoria was playing in just his second game at third since coming off the disabled list Aug. 7 after missing more than three months with a partially torn left hamstring; his other 13 starts were at DH.

Maddon said Longoria will DH today and play third Saturday. It is possible the Rays will consider having him play two days in a row at third on the upcoming road trip.

"He knows his range and lateral movement are not where he wants it to be, and he needs to know how to protect himself until it arrives at that point," Maddon said. "But he answered a lot of questions for himself tonight."

ON TASK: Rookie LHP Matt Moore enters tonight's start against the A's looking like a much different pitcher than the one that got roughed up for a season-high eight runs by Oakland in May.

"It feels like a long time ago," Moore said.

That's because, starting June 1, Moore has been on a roll, going 9-2 with a 2.78 ERA in 14 starts, including 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in his past five. His confidence and command have improved as he has seemingly put it all together.

"I feel like I have made adjustments to make myself a more complete pitcher," Moore said.

Maddon said: "He's pitching at a different level and a different way than he had. He's a lot more confident, a lot more pitch efficient. I think the fastball command is a big reason for that. I think you're going to see a better version of what they saw the last time."

REST UP: Maddon said he plans to rest most of his regulars at least one day this weekend, which is why LF Desmond Jennings and 1B Carlos Peña were out of Thursday's lineup. DH Luke Scott is slated to be off today, with CF B.J. Upton off Saturday.

The Rays, completing a stretch of 19 days without a day off, have an off day Sunday before traveling to Texas and Toronto on a seven-game road trip.

"Based on the depth and how we can work things, I want to try to give other people off so we're really frisky going on the road," Maddon said.

Not-so-minor matters: Three Rays minor-leaguers with Class A Bowling Green (2B Ryan Brett, RHP Charles Cononie and LHP Justin Woodall) have been suspended 50 games for violating the drug policy. Each player tested positive for methamphetamine and an amphetamine.

Brett, 20, was the most notable name, a third-round pick in 2010 who was hitting .285. Woodall played football at Alabama and was a starting safety on the Tide's 2009 national title team.

"The Tampa Bay Rays are very disappointed by the conduct of these players," the Rays said in a statement.

MISCELLANY: The Rays' 13 shutouts rank second in the majors to the Angels (15). … Scott extended his hitting streak to a season-high seven games with his fifth-inning double.

Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria builds his case to play more third base 08/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 24, 2012 12:23am]

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