ST. PETERSBURG — While the return date of 3B Evan Longoria remains unclear, OF Matt Joyce is "pretty optimistic" he will be back in the Rays lineup within two weeks.
Joyce, out since mid June, said he feels good, has been hitting and running, and will participate in full workouts with the team over the next few days with plans to start a rehab assignment sometime next week.
Joyce was first sidelined with a mild oblique strain. Then during a July 4 rehab appearance with Triple-A Durham, he sustained "a separate kind of injury" that he described as "a little strain" of his lower back, acknowledging now he was trying to rush back.
"Right now I feel great," he said. "I've had a bunch of days off and a chance to let everything heal and rest."
Manager Joe Maddon said the two-week window was a "reasonable" time frame if Joyce has no additional setbacks.
TOP PICK CLOSE: The Rays and top draft pick Richie Shaffer were considered close to a deal as of Thursday night and expected to finalize terms in advance of this afternoon's signing deadline.
Shaffer, taken 25th overall, is a power-hitting third baseman from Clemson. The "value" for his draft slot is $1,725,000. With Shaffer, the Rays will have signed their top 13 picks and 36 of 40 overall.
MEDICAL MATTERS: OF Sam Fuld is likely to beat both Joyce and Longoria back. Fuld, recovering from spring right wrist surgery, has played in four rehab games for Class A Charlotte, going 1-for-10. … RHP Jeff Niemann, out since May with a broken leg, is "coming along well," Maddon said, but likely looking at an August return. … C Robinson Chirinos, who sustained a concussion in spring training, may end up being out for the season.
FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE: In an effort to improve overall play, Maddon has added extra individual and small-group work sessions to the pregame routine for the 10-day homestand that starts tonight, focusing on subjects such as bunting, situational hitting and defense.
"Nothing dramatic, just routine-based," Maddon said. "It's just the way it's going to be set up."
Maddon also addressed the group at Thursday's nonmandatory workout, suggesting they stop focusing on when their injured teammates are coming back, "to not worry about what we're missing. Let's go with what we've got and make this work because I believe we can."
SHOW AND TELL: Twenty of the 25 active players showed up for the nonmandatory workout. Missing were pitchers Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, James Shields (who joined Longoria at the ESPYs in Los Angeles), and All-Stars David Price and Fernando Rodney. Joyce and Niemann were also there.
MISCELLANY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson, who starts tonight, said he is aiming to be more aggressive and pitch more to contact in the second half of the season. … Sunday's win at Cleveland was the major-league-high sixth time the Rays won when trailing going into the ninth, all without extra innings.