ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are wearing T-shirts, putting up billboards, setting up laptops at the stadium and joking about reassigning interns to voting duty in an effort to get 1B Carlos Peña elected as the final member of the AL All-Star team.
From the early returns, he's going to need the help.
Peña was running fourth among the five candidates as of 8 p.m. Tuesday, more than halfway through the mlb.com voting period that ends at 4 p.m. Thursday. Texas' Ian Kinsler was leading, according to MLB, followed by Detroit's Brandon Inge, Los Angeles' Chone Figgins (of Brandon), Peña and Toronto's Adam Lind.
Peña was thrilled, entertained and somewhat humbled by all the attention, from his teammates wearing white Vote Los T-shirts with his photo during batting practice ("I couldn't stop laughing," Peña said) to fans stopping him at Publix to say their hands were hurting from staying up late voting for him.
"I know I'm not on the team yet, but that itself to me is very humbling, and I really appreciate the fact that they appreciate me and they have shown me so much love," Peña said. "So it's awesome to see."
Rays 3B Evan Longoria was the somewhat surprise winner of the Internet voting for the final spot last season, and the Rays are being more aggressive this year to get Peña elected and increase the record number of Tampa Bay All-Stars to five.
"It's a full-force campaign to get Carlos on that club," said team president Matt Silverman, who voted 12 times. "The whole community can rally behind Carlos and push him to St. Louis. … It's a very big deal for us and an even bigger deal for Carlos.
"He's an All-Star player and he's an all-star person. He means so much to this club. He's been the heart and soul. And it's something that would be very special for all of us if he can get to St. Louis."
The Rays are hoping to build local support, and Peña is likely to get some elsewhere as well. There's talk on Boston fan message boards about voting for Peña (who grew up in the area) in reciprocation for Rays manager Joe Maddon selecting Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield.
Pitching in: RHP Jeff Niemann, skipped last time, will make his next start Friday against the A's. RHP Matt Garza, who started in Niemann's place Sunday, will get an extra day's rest and work Saturday and James Shields Sunday.
Longo lift: In the disappointment of the three-game sweep in Texas, there was some good news as Longoria said he took a "huge step" in getting past the lingering effects of his left hamstring strain. "I'm feeling 100 percent better than I have in the past two weeks," he said. "I made some defensive plays I hadn't been able to make. … I didn't feel any pain; I ran pretty good down the line."
Renegade moment: The Rays Class A short-season Hudson Valley (N.Y.) affiliate held its controversial promotion saluting women in baseball — officials and fans — on Tuesday. The promotion drew some protests and national media attention. "We should have a fun time," team president Jeff Goldklang said.
International intrigue: The Rays are set to pay a reported $1 million bonus to 16-year-old Venezuelan 3B prospect Cesar Perez if details are finalized and more than $500,000 to another, SS Juniel Querecuto.
Miscellany: The only Ray whom Jays rookie Mark Rzepczynski had faced was Longoria — in high school. … LHP Brian Shouse (left elbow) and C Shawn Riggans (right shoulder) are making progress and could be back in August. … The Rays' top four hitters were a combined 0-for-19 with seven Ks. … 2B Elliot Johnson returned to Triple-A Durham after missing two months with a hand injury. … Toronto's Scott Rolen extended his hitting streak to 24 games. … The Rays are 21-5 at home since May 15.