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Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez, Felipe Lopez confident they can fill in for injured Evan Longoria

ST. PETERSBURG — As a third baseman, Evan Longoria is without peer. But as a cheerleader, as he'll be reduced to for at least the next three weeks while recovering from a left oblique strain, well, he's certainly going to have some learning to do from David Price, the Rays' four-day-a-week resident rah-rah.

As Longoria adapts to his new role, the Rays will have to adjust to life without him on the field. Initially that means having the hot corner handled by Sean Rodriguez, the up-and-comer who's always seeking additional opportunity, and Felipe Lopez, the 10-year veteran looking for another chance after initially being sent to the minors.

"Everyone's been talking about Sean being primed for a breakout year, and having Felipe here now, those two guys are great players," Longoria said. "These guys are ready to step in."

Manager Joe Maddon said he'll sort through the best ways to use both, whether it's a straight platoon, with Rodriguez at third against lefties and Lopez, a switch-hitter, facing right-handers, or keyed more to specific matchups, as well as how Lopez looks at the plate.

"It's going to be much more difficult, of course," Maddon said. "We're going to have to figure out another way to get this done. And we'll get that done somehow. It's just the way the baseball season works sometimes. You'll see more Felipe, you'll see more of Sean over there. Just try to really continue to mix and match the best we possibly can."

Lopez was headed to Triple A, for the first time since 2004, when he got rerouted to the Tropicana Field on Sunday. When he got to the dugout, he told Longoria he wasn't pleased with the circumstances of the injury but was excited to be back in the big leagues.

"I've done it for a while," Lopez said. "I know what it takes."

He didn't do very well last season, hitting a combined .233 for the Cardinals and (briefly) the Red Sox and ranking 30th in fielding percentage (.920) of the 32 major-leaguers who started at least 50 games at third base, making 11 errors in 60 games. For his career, he has a .933 mark in 155 games at third, considerably lower than at second base (.978) and shortstop (.960), where he has spent more time.

"I'm comfortable there," Lopez said. "I obviously played a lot there with St. Louis. I'm just going to be ready whenever I see my name in the lineup or if I'm on the bench. I'll do what I do."

The Rays, Maddon said, feel fortunate to have him. "I thought he did a great job in camp, and I really liked his at-bats," he said. "He's a good man. We've gotten to know each other well in spring training. I'm really happy that he's with us right now. … It's never good to get anybody injured, but we feel very good about Felipe being there."

Rodriguez, 25, has played in only 10 games at third (four starts) but can say that — at least thus far — he's perfect, with no errors in 15 chances.

Rodriguez said the biggest difference from shortstop, where he played most of his minor-league career with the Angels, and second base, where he has logged most of his big-league innings, is time — more specifically, the lack of time to field balls, making it more a matter of reaction. Also, he'll get the chance to show off his arm. "A lot of people underestimate the little guy's arm strength," he said.

Rodriguez, naturally, welcomes whatever additional playing time the situation yields, another step in his quest to establish himself as an everyday guy. "If given more opportunity, I'll try to seize that opportunity," he said.

That's basically how he looks back at the August 2009 trade from the Angels, with prospects Alex Torres, a lefty starter who will be at Triple A, and Matt Sweeney, a Double-A infielder, for Scott Kazmir (who is 11-17, 5.31 in 35 starts since the deal that also saved the Rays $22.5 million): That the Rays gave him the chance the Angels, who are in town tonight and Wednesday, didn't, and he showed what he could do with it.

"And," Rodriguez said, "there's still a lot left I've got to show them, too."

For at least the next three weeks, Rodriguez and Lopez will get their chance.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez, Felipe Lopez confident they can fill in for injured Evan Longoria 04/04/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:31am]
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