ST. PETERSBURG — The reality for the Rays is they are going to play most, and possibly all, of the next two months without their best overall player, third baseman Evan Longoria.
The challenge is to see if they can continue to play well.
"We're still a really good team," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "It's definitely not ideal, but we do have a ton of talent around him. That should allow us to still win a lot of games."
Longoria, 26, will be sidelined due to a partial tear of his left hamstring sustained trying to steal second in Monday's game, the diagnosis confirmed with a Tuesday MRI exam. He will rest his leg for the next 2-3 weeks, with a best-case scenario that he could resume baseball activities in late May and rejoin the lineup in mid June, a less-optimistic view that it could be late June or early July before he returns.
"He's always been a pretty good healer," Friedman said. "He's had some hamstring issues in the past and has come back from them pretty quickly, relatively speaking.''
Longoria's frustration at being idled was obvious, though he insisted he would remain positive. He also showed some perspective after a change in his offseason training program designed specifically to prevent these type of injuries, which sidelined him previously.
"It's one of those things where I can go home and look in the mirror and know I've done everything I can do to be as healthy as I can be," he said. "And sometimes it just doesn't happen."
Making it worse, Longoria has been hot, hitting .329 with four homers and a team-high 19 RBIs, plus a .994 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Manager Joe Maddon said he will rotate in different players to fill Longoria's spot in the middle of the batting order based on matchups and plans to primarily use Elliot Johnson and Jeff Keppinger to play third. Other options include shortstop Sean Rodriguez and infielder Will Rhymes, who was called up from Triple-A Durham to add depth. Friedman said an external acquisition was also a possibility.
The Rays have some experience playing without Longoria, who missed 26 games during the first month of last season with an oblique strain, 10 games at the end of 2010 with a quad strain and 30 games with a fractured right wrist during his 2008 rookie season.
"We did good without Longoria for a little while there, but it didn't mean we didn't miss him for sure," Johnson said. "He's our guy. He's the franchise player. How do you replace those guys? You really don't. You just try and weather the storm until he can get back in here and be back to being Longo."
Maddon said the offseason additions of Carlos Peña and Luke Scott should make it easier to absorb the loss of Longoria's bat, though there will be an impact on the entire lineup. They expect the defense to be nearly as good.
Friedman said he was confident the team will rise to the challenge, pointing specifically to 2008, when several other frontline players were also sidelined.
"It's definitely not a great situation from a team standpoint," Friedman said. "That being said … I thought back to 2008 and every single one of our position players with the exception of (second baseman Akinori Iwamura) went on the DL and just the number of different guys who stepped up.
"That's what we try to focus on a lot in the offseason, the depth that we have and the players that we have. So while it's certainly not ideal, I'm excited and anxious to see who is going to step up and who is going to do what some of those guys did for us in 2008."
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]