ST. PETERSBURG — While 3B Evan Longoria believes the left hamstring injury sustained Tuesday is minor, and that he's just "day to day," the Rays say they won't know how serious it is until he has an MRI exam today.
Longoria, the major-league RBI leader, grabbed his left leg after grounding out in the sixth. Already serving as DH for the second straight game because of a sore arm, Longoria said he tested his leg by riding a stationary bike and "felt fine" but had trouble loosening it up. The team called it "tightness."
"It was more of a precautionary thing," Longoria said. "I didn't feel a pop, didn't feel a pull. … Hopefully it's just a day-to-day thing."
But manager Joe Maddon appeared more concerned, his office door closed longer than usual as the Rays gathered information. While there was no roster move made, when asked if he was worried, Maddon said, "I don't feel really good about it. We'll see how it ends up (today)."
The absence of Longoria, the AL's leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game, would be a big blow to an already short-handed lineup as DH Pat Burrell (neck strain) is still on the disabled list along with the majors' leading hitter, SS Jason Bartlett (left ankle sprain).
"Longoria is a stallion when it comes to wanting to play this game," Maddon said. "He knows his role within our group. He knows his place and lot within this game already. He knows for us to get back to the promised land, he's got to be there. He knows that. I hope it is good and it may be good by (today). I just don't know yet."
ON A ROLL: LHP J.P. Howell and RHP Grant Balfour put together impressive performances Tuesday, combining for 21/3 innings of hitless relief with five strikeouts and no walks.
ON THE RISE: RHP Jeff Niemann, who has performed well as the fifth starter, said he made up for his last abbreviated outing (because of a rain delay) with a more extensive bullpen session and is ready to continue his roll.
"I just think he's in a better place mentally on the mound, I think he's controlling himself better," Maddon said. "I just see him being a little more confident and a little more calmer in a game."
ON TOP: Longoria took the overall lead in AL All-Star voting, moving past Yankees SS Derek Jeter with a month left in the balloting.
Longoria has 1,036,071 votes in the update released Tuesday, moving past Jeter, who has 1,017,560. Longoria has a substantial lead among third basemen, with more than twice as many votes as Texas' Michael Young (441,912), New York's Alex Rodriguez (428,690) and Boston's Mike Lowell (315,686).
Other Rays among the leaders at their positions include Bartlett, who is a distant second to Jeter with 435,456 votes, and OF Carl Crawford, who ranks fifth with 439,870
KAZ ON TRACK: Maddon said the Rays have been encouraged with the progress of LHP Scott Kazmir (on the DL with a right quads strain), saying his leg is feeling better and that they've worked through some things mechanically. Maddon said they've set up a program for Kazmir to start working his way back to the Rays, which could include more bullpen sessions this week and maybe a simulated game.
They haven't gotten as far as a minor-league assignment, but that's possible.
PAIN IN NECK: Burrell (neck stiffness) is improving, with a better range of motion in his neck, and Maddon said Burrell will do some more hitting this week, working off a tee in the cage then advancing to batting practice. Early next week, they'll develop a program to get him back to the Rays, with a minor-league assignment a possibility.
MISCELLANY: CF B.J. Upton went 2-for-3 and extended his hitting streak to a season-high six games. Over his past 19 games he's batting .278 (23-for-83). … Ben Zobrist extended his hitting streak to eight games. … LF Carl Crawford recorded his 4,000th career at-bat, the first Ray to do so.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.