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Tampa Bay Rays facing daunting five-game stretch against tough pitchers

SEATTLE — As part of the rigors of competing in the AL East, the Rays are used to going against top-notch starting pitching.

But their rejuvenated offense will be tested in a particularly rugged five-game stretch that begins today against Seattle's King Felix Hernandez and then continues in Los Angeles against Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke.

That's one no-hitter, two Cy Young Awards, 12 All-Star selections and 444 wins among them.

"I know it's going to be good," SS Ben Zobrist said. "When you're facing a good pitcher, a little bit of it is hoping they make more mistakes than they usually do. The other part of it is realizing that if our pitchers pitch the way they're capable of, it's going to be a one-run game, it's going to be a close game.

"So we're going to have to scratch and claw to get whatever we need to get the next five days against those guys."

OF Sam Fuld said it's not that much different than facing the Yankees, Red Sox, etc.

"Yeah, it looks we do have five games in a row where we're facing really quality guys, but we're pretty equipped to take that on. We see that a lot," Fuld said. "It happens to be a little bit more daunting than normal now, but, gosh, we've got a lot of momentum on our side."

SHORT STORY: With a fifth start in the past six games, Zobrist looks more and more like the new primary shortstop and said he would welcome the move.

"It's the position I came up playing and it's one of my favorite positions," he said. "If it was permanent, I would love it. But if it's for a period of time, then I'm fine with that, too. Whatever works best for the team is going to end up being what's best for me, probably, in the end."

LONGO UPDATE: Evan Longoria was back in the lineup at DH after resting his previously torn left hamstring Monday. Maddon said if all goes well, Longoria is in line to play the rest of the road trip, though Thursday, following the Wednesday night flight, could be a question. Also, Monday's first game back at the Trop seems unlikely.

REHAB REPORT: RHP Jeff Niemann, coming back from a mid-May broken leg, threw 64 pitches over 31/3 innings for advanced Class A Charlotte at Bradenton in the second of four planned rehab starts, likely headed next to Triple-A Durham. Though Niemann allowed four runs in the fourth and six hits total, Maddon said he threw well.

What the Rays will do when Niemann returns in late August is becoming more interesting because of how well Alex Cobb has pitched in his place, which could lead to discussion about using a six-man rotation.

"Right now the guys are throwing the ball really well," Maddon said. "There's creative ways to do that, to give people rest, also. So we'll see when we get to that point."

DH Luke Scott (oblique strain) had an opposite-field homer and a single in his fourth rehab game and will be re-evaluated today, with the Rays deciding whether to bring him to Anaheim on Thursday or get him more rehab at-bats.

MISCELLANY: RHP Alex Colome, a rising prospect who could be in line for a September callup, left his Triple-A Durham start Monday with a right lat strain. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg was at the game with his family; so, too, was special assistant Rocco Baldelli, attending scouting meetings. … Matt Joyce's hitting streak ended at a career-high 12 games.

Tampa Bay Rays facing daunting five-game stretch against tough pitchers 08/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 4:32pm]

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