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Evan Longoria hopes less pressure leads to more performance

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) comes out of the cage during batting practice on his first workout for Rays Spring Training at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) comes out of the cage during batting practice on his first workout for Rays Spring Training at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
Published Feb. 24, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE — Evan Longoria is planning to do some things differently in his quest to once again be Evan Longoria.

Reporting to Rays camp Tuesday after a busy offseason — highlighted by his marriage to longtime mate Jaime Edmondson — the veteran third baseman and unofficial captain revealed significant changes to his physical training and mental approach in hopes of reviving his production and the team's chances to win a championship.

Most significant, he is backing away from the leadership role that he personally took on last spring after the team lost several key veterans, as well as manager Joe Maddon. He makes the stark admission that the burden wore him down and ultimately impacted his performance.

"Nobody wants to feel that pressure every day," Longoria said. "For me, I felt it a lot last year. I was hard on myself. And I know that it's not the best thing for you mentally.

"The end of the season, it (stinks). You're tired, and sometimes day to day it's not as enjoyable as it could be being here because you're so mentally drained. So for me, it's more trying to take the weight off myself, but also knowing that the rest of the guys are capable. It's not like I'm trying to trick myself into not having to do things or be a leader or whatever. I really feel like I don't have to be anymore because we have guys that are capable."

That means he is happy to see other players emerge as leaders — already chiding ace Chris Archer about publicly scolding two pitching prospects for not arriving early enough Sunday. And to see more experienced veterans added to the roster, as well as more established hitters to provide needed protection in the lineup.

"I feel like my role is now — I don't have to do as much," Longoria said. "I don't feel that weight or responsibility anymore. Or at least it's less. … My expectations of myself I guess are maybe I won't be … so hard on myself every day. I think that really helps, not feeling that pressure every day to kind of do too much."

To further that process, he is reading another self-help type book, as he is wont, this one Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant that deals with the placebo effect. "I'm kinda hoping it's about how we can learn to trick our minds into believing, or actually feeling, certain things," he said.

Longoria is 30 now, joking that he is "supposed to be coming into my prime" and noting how good he feels, the wrist injury and other nagging issues from last season gone.

It wasn't that he had a horrible year, hitting .270 with 21 homers and 73 RBIs. But those were the lowest production numbers for a full season of his eight and his second straight overall down year.

That left him searching for some way to improve his performance, opting to add bulk and potentially strength by going back to a previous routine.

Down to about 200 pounds by the end of last season, and losing nearly 10 more after getting sick a few weeks before the New Year's Eve wedding in Los Angeles and honeymoon in Paris, Longoria opted for mass in his workouts and showed up in Port Charlotte weighing around 212.

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He is hoping to get a boost as well by going back to yoga, even taking a class in nearby Punta Gorda on his way to the complex Tuesday morning.

"I think there was maybe a little something missing there for me," he said, "whether it was flexibility wise or just maybe the little added whip or core strength or whatever it was that yoga (provided)."

It has been six years since Longoria was last an All-Star, three since he got a vote for the American League MVP award. He wasn't anywhere on MLB Network's ranking of the "Top 10 Third Basemen Right Now!" and only an honorable mention selection on ESPN's Buster Olney's top 10, lists in the past on which he would have ranked high.

And, by the way, he is making $12.1 million this season and has at least six more years and another $100 million remaining on his contract.

Is he still among the elite?

"I think I am," Longoria said. "Maybe my numbers aren't. I think there's a lot of different ways to impact the game. Obviously, offensively, I would love to put up the numbers that I did in 2009 or 2010.

"And I believe that I'm capable of doing that still. But it comes with an accumulation of work. It's not just going to happen again. I've got to figure out what that formula is."

More important, he insists, is helping the Rays win a championship.

"I don't really care about reclaiming (a spot)," he said. "I care about being a good player for this team. That's really all that matters."

Or being a great player again.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.