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Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria 'feeling like a new man'

PORT CHARLOTTE

This year is going to be different for Evan Longoria.

There's the baby he and girlfriend Jaime Edmondson are expecting just before opening day. The attention, and expectations, that come with his $100 million contract extension. A decision to take on an increased leadership role in the Rays clubhouse.

And the realization that he has to find a way — even if it reluctantly means taking preventative days off — to avoid having another season disrupted by injury.

"This has to come to an end," he said.

Longoria missed more than half of last season with a left hamstring injury, leading to November surgery — which left him "feeling like a new man" — and his early arrival at Rays spring training, which formally starts today with a workout for pitchers and catchers.

He missed a month the previous season with an oblique strain, and the last 10 games (and was limited in the playoffs) the one before that with a quad strain. Plus, he had a finger infection in the middle of the 2009 season and a broken wrist as a 2008 rookie. Overall, he has missed more than 20 percent of the Rays' games in his five seasons.

After seeing Longoria try a series of different conditioning programs and routines, the Rays are planning to find ways to get him more rest. With last year a sledgehammer reminder of how valuable he is to have on the field, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said they haven't committed to a specific plan (such as DH, pinch-hit, total rest) but, "I'm sure we'll be a little bit more proactive in terms of giving him days."

And as much as Longoria prides himself as an everyday gladiator, he is willing to make the concession.

"If I have to take a day off here and there to not go on the DL and not have to deal with that kind of stress or worry, I'll do it," he said. "Trying to avoid the DL is going to be the biggest thing for me."

But he won't necessarily be happy about it.

"I'm 27 years old," he said. "It's getting to the point, I shouldn't have to take these days off. I'm still young. That's the last thing on my mind, having to worry about taking days off. I can do that eight years from now, but not now."

He found inspiration in the play of oft-injured veteran Carlos Beltran, who "kind of had that stigma, too," and at 35 had a strong season for St. Louis: "It's doable as late into his career as he is, so you hope that for me I can have five, six, seven years just like that."

As "really good" as Longoria said he feels and has done running, he will be watched closely and questioned often. And given that he has yet to try running the bases, he admitted he "might take a couple steps back" in the first week or two of camp.

Meanwhile, he is making a concerted effort to be more of a leader in a clubhouse that lost veterans James Shields and B.J. Upton. For Longoria, that started with the unprecedented act of actually looking at the roster of who was coming to camp, and he plans to follow through with introductions.

"I just told myself coming into spring this year that I would do a better job at meeting the new guys and just making myself available," he said.

The contract will bring some attention, along with some high-profile appearances (like the ESPN The Magazine photoshoot) and a hand in a new sports bar venture in Tampa.

There also is all that is involved with the baby girl due the day before the April 2 opener.

"It's been fun," Longoria said. "I think it's all going to be good. It really hasn't put my mind at a stressful point. I feel great, I'm happy to be here. I think when it all happens there, will be a little bit of weight lifted off of me. But it's not enough that's going to drag me down right now."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria 'feeling like a new man' 02/12/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 11:31pm]
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