Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria makes first start at third base since coming off disabled list

ST. PETERSBURG — As long as Evan Longoria thought about and prepared for his anticipated return to third base, he was still nervous, and hesitant about when the right time was.

That's why Longoria left the "tough decision" in the hands of Rays manager Joe Maddon, who told him he was ready by penciling the three-time All-Star into the lineup at third Tuesday for the first time since he suffered a partially torn left hamstring April 30.

Considering how well Longoria had felt after his first 12 games at DH since coming off the disabled list, Maddon said the Rays targeted Tuesday to put him back in the field, coinciding with Luke Scott coming off the disabled list.

Longoria looked good, making a leaping catch on a line drive by Royals C Salvador Perez in the second inning. But he acknowledged he'll have to ease his way back and will be somewhat limited on certain plays, with Maddon saying he won't be able to play nine innings every time. Tuesday, he came out to start the eighth inning. Maddon said Longoria looked fine and will play today, likely at DH.

"There's never going to be, at least in my opinion, 100 percent confidence saying 'I'm ready' the first day back," Longoria said. "I definitely have some hesitation, but I think going out there and getting through a game and feeling fine — and I don't anticipate anything going wrong — that's what it's going to take for me to get past that step."

Longoria said he has to restrain from going hard after, and diving for, balls in the hole at short and rely on positioning. As for how often Longoria plays third, Maddon said they'll have to "play it by ear," depending on how he feels.

"I don't anticipate the normal Longo third base," Maddon said. "But, nevertheless, it's probably going to be pretty good."

UP AND DOWN: To make room for Scott, the Rays optioned INF Sean Rodriguez to Triple-A Durham.

Maddon said it was a difficult decision and acknowledged that Rodriguez has recently played some of his best baseball of the season. But the move made sense, considering Rodriguez has a minor-league option left (unlike INF Elliot Johnson), and can be brought back Sept. 1 without burning that option.

Rodriguez, who has hits in four straight starts, was batting just .215, and Maddon said he will benefit from regular at-bats for the Bulls before coming back in less than two weeks.

"Sean was a pro, he understood," Maddon said. "And he's also going to definitely use it to his benefit regarding the adjustments that he's made, how well he's been swinging now. It might be a good thing."

GREAT SCOTT: Scott, who missed a month with an oblique strain, was excited to be back and showed it by stretching a single into a double in his first at-bat in the third.

Scott hit well before getting hurt (.385 in the 10 games before going on the DL) and during an eight-game rehab assignment (.308), and he hopes to keep it going.

"I like where I'm at," Scott said. "My shoulder is starting to get to the point where it's really beginning to get that last inch of extension, which is really important. I'm excited to see what's going to happen."

Scott said he can play first base with no problems and be effective in the corner outfield spots, but it remains to be seen how the Rays will keep him and Longoria in the lineup. But Maddon is thrilled to finally have the full offensive group they had envisioned before the season together for the first time since April. "It's gotten real thick," Maddon said.

MISCELLANY: C Jose Molina's nine-game hitting streak ended. … CF B.J. Upton turned 28 Tuesday.

Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria makes first start at third base since coming off disabled list 08/21/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 11:52pm]

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