ST. PETERSBURG — At this point, Evan Longoria on one good leg would have to help.
The Rays continued their parade of silence at the plate Sunday, losing 1-0 to the Orioles in 10 innings, being shut out in back-to-back games by the same team for the first time in eight years and extending their scoreless streak to 21 innings, five from the team record.
And in doing so, they wasted another dazzling pitching performance, eight zeroes from David Price, and gave away whatever momentum they had gained, dropping to 56-52 and back to fifth in the AL wild-card chase.
Amid the familiar postgame refrain — "We just have to get better," manager Joe Maddon said, again — were two different thoughts:
Longoria coming back as soon as Tuesday, and — queue up the critics on Line 2 — Maddon saying he wants the hitters to do less work before games.
The possibility of Longoria's return — the star third baseman last played April 30 — finally seems real, 50-50 for Tuesday in Maddon's estimation, maybe more in Longoria's mind.
"You're not scoring runs, you want to get people back obviously, but you've got to make sure that he's ready and well to do that," Maddon said.
After going 2-for-3 (and sliding for the first time) Sunday for Triple-A Durham, his fourth straight game and eighth overall (5-for-25, seven walks), Longoria said he pretty much was.
"Overall the at-bats were better, and I felt better,'' he said in Durham. "My legs are recovering. I'm not feeling the amount of soreness or fatigue that I was feeling. So it's one of those things where I hope that's a possibility.''
And even though he would be limited to DH duties, and probably won't be able to play every day, and likely will need some time to get re-acclimated to big-league pitching, Longoria's return can only be a plus to a team that has scored three or fewer runs in 11 of its past 14 games and has six or fewer hits in 40 of its 108 games.
"It definitely does something different to your lineup regarding who hits where, that kind of stuff," Maddon said. "No question it would have some kind of positive impact. A hitter of his magnitude in your lineup always does. But my expectations aren't that he's just going to come in and just start railing on the baseball. … I believe he's going to have to work his way through it and get back up to speed with major-league baseball players playing in August."
No matter what Longoria does, or when Luke Scott returns, the other Rays need to do more anyway. They were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position for the three-game series, matching the Orioles at a major-league-low .234 in those situations, and are down to .230 overall.
For another illustration, consider at the critical moment in Sunday's game, with the winning run on second and two outs, the Orioles intentionally walked .196-hitting Carlos Peña so they could face — and strike out — .097-hitting Ryan Roberts, whom Maddon considered their best shot. "It's very frustrating," Roberts said.
"The guys that are here are capable players also," Maddon said. "We have to get the guys that are here to perform at the level they can."
In an attempt to do that, Maddon plans to curtail batting practice and structured pregame work, considering the standard routine "eye wash" that doesn't do much good.
"I really want them to do less," Maddon said. "I'd rather go American Legion right now — just show up and play. There's something to be said for that."
Maybe, less will be more. Though Maddon was reluctant to say it was rock bottom, it would seem there's only one way for the offense to go.
"If I was the Orioles, I'd be really upset giving up two runs in three games and only winning two," he said. "They've got to be leaving here very upset about that."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]