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Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria uses calm approach, hard work to build on stellar rookie season

BALTIMORE — Evan Longoria sure seems to be in a rush.

Here he is, all of 23, youngest guy on the Rays team, and he has already been to an All-Star Game and a World Series, has been on the cover of national magazines and is considered among the game's brightest young stars, with the modifier soon to be unnecessary.

As if his 2008 AL rookie of the year season weren't impressive enough, he's off to a staggering start this season, headlined by a mind-boggling major-league-leading 44 RBIs through the Rays' first 33 games.

And to just think that next week, he'll play his 162nd game, marking his first full season in the majors.

As quickly as Longoria has arrived as one of the game's most productive hitters, the key, teammates, coaches, analysts and opponents say, is how cool, calm and collected he is at the plate.

"The way he hits, you notice how simple he is and how relaxed he is," ESPN's Steve Phillips said. "He looks like a 20-year veteran when he's hitting; nothing surprises him, nothing is too much for him to handle. He's intense without any tension."

Here's a look at how he does it and what people are saying about it:

Taking his swing

The things that stand out about Longoria's swing are essentially in contradiction: how much it looks as if he isn't ready to hit when he gets to the plate; then, how quickly he gets set, recognizes pitches and whips the bat across the plate.

"Evan has an uncanny ability to slow the game down in all facets," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "but at the plate it's obviously helpful that he has tremendous bat speed, he trusts his hands so much, and he can wait for the ball to travel so deep (across the plate) and explode."

Longoria stands upright, with his feet close together, as if he's waiting for someone or something. The stride is short and smooth — he picked up a tip from a college hitting coach to think he's stepping on eggshells with his front foot, and he keeps that in mind.

"I like to use the word quiet," Rays hitting coach Steve Henderson said.

Once Longoria gets set and recognizes the pitch, his hands do the work.

"His bat speed is something else," Henderson said. "I've seen him hit balls that are almost in the catcher's mitt, and he's hit them out of the ballpark."

Boston's David Ortiz, who knows a little bit about hitting, is in awe: "I don't know how to explain it — it's not even fair."

The Red Sox have computer software that allows them to break down video of hitters essentially like high-def frame by frame, and Ortiz said he can't believe how quickly Longoria gets ready.

Typically, Ortiz said, there are five clicks (or frames) from when a good hitter plants his front foot, recognizes the pitch and hits the ball. "Longoria takes eight — nobody takes eight," Ortiz said.

"A guy who's late," Boston hitting coach Dave Magadan explained, "is almost striding, swinging and recognizing all at the same time, which is not what you want. He's ready, he can recognize a pitch, he's back and then he can explode on the ball."

As much talent as Longoria has, he also works hard. Manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly praised his improvement in pitch selection, two-strike approach and willingness to use all fields.

Taking it easy

Longoria may make it look easy at times.

He definitely looks like he's taking it easy.

Henderson says, "It looks like he's falling asleep up there." Carl Crawford says, "I can understand why a pitcher might think he's not going to hit the ball because he doesn't look like he's even ready."

Carlos Peña, who is usually on deck when Longoria hits, has what might be the best perspective.

"I get a pretty good angle on his facial expressions, and I'm like, 'Are you serious with that face right there?' We might be in a big situation, and at times he almost shrugs, like, 'Whatever …' And I'm like, 'Oh that's a good thing. I hope he's feeling that inside.' …

"That's very impressive to me, especially for a young player to be able to do that in big situations, to feel like, so what, I'm by the pool getting a little sun. That's kind of cool."

Longoria, who has worked extensively with performance consultant (sports psychologist) Ken Ravizza, said it's by design.

"I think that's just part of keeping it simple," Longoria said. "Every time I go up there, like if a guy's thrown me high and tight and I get all upset and then I start going a million miles an hour, and either striking out or doing something I wasn't trying to do. So I try to keep that even keel and keep that relaxed look. It's been working for me so far."

Who's that guy?

The comparison heard most often is to Edgar Martinez, the seven-time Seattle All-Star who led the AL twice in hitting and once in RBIs, though Longoria has more power.

There are others, of course. Henderson mentions Rafael Palmeiro and Albert Pujols as others who look nonchalant at the plate but did serious damage. Phillips suggests Cal Ripken, in performance and, perhaps the even bigger compliment, personality.

In reality, Longoria said, he modeled himself after former Long Beach State teammate, and current Rockies star, Troy Tulowitzki, even though their stances are totally different.

Longoria among MLB leaders

44

RBIs

1st

15

2Bs

1st

.748

SLG

1st

26

XB
hits

1st

92

total bases

1st

1.158

OPS

2nd

11

HRs

T3rd

.358

Avg.

7th

.410

OBP

19th

"LeBron James. … You can't get no better. If you get better than that, you're going to be a Hall of Famer at age 30. He's an unbelievable player. And he's fun to watch — I mean that."

Boston DH David Ortiz

"As dangerous a hitter as there is in the big leagues."

New York LHP Andy Pettitte

"He could be the best player in the league. Seeing him this year and last year, he's the real deal."

New York OF Johnny Damon

"We're looking at a guy who might be one of the best third basemen of all time before it's over."

ESPN's Peter Gammons

"I think amazed might be the right word. Watching him, it's pretty special."

Boston OF Rocco Baldelli, the ex-Ray

Fast facts

Longoria vs. history

Most RBIs through 33 team games (since 1953)

RBIsPlayerTeamTotal

46Roy Campanella'53 Dodgers142

44Evan Longoria09 Rays???

44Manny Ramirez'99 Indians165

Taking a Hack

The record for RBIs in a season is 191, by Hack Wilson (in 155 games) for the 1930 Cubs. In his first 33 games that season, he had 35 RBIs.

Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria uses calm approach, hard work to build on stellar rookie season 05/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:32am]
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