Rays hope Longoria makes impact in opener with Jays
(Sports Network) - Tampa Bay's struggling offense is set to get a big lift Tuesday when the Rays open a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Star third baseman Evan Longoria is set to be activated for the first time since late April for a Tampa Bay team that is in the midst of a 21-inning scoreless streak.
The Rays were shut out for a second consecutive time on Sunday, suffering a 1-0, 10-inning loss to Baltimore in St. Petersburg. That came on the heels of a 4-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Orioles a day earlier.
Tampa Bay is now seven games behind New York in the American League East and 1 1/2 south of the O's.
"I'm at the point now where I'd really like them to do less as opposed to more," manager Joe Maddon told the Rays' website when talking about his team's offensive woes. "I'd rather us go the other way, back off with the work, go play, come with a fresh mind and body, and I think we'll have a better result."
Longoria should help. The three-time All-Star is Tampa Bay's best all-around player and was hitting .329 with four home runs and 19 RBI when he suffered a partially torn hamstring back on April 30.
He went 2-for-3 with a walk for Triple-A Durham on Sunday in his eighth rehab appearance.
As bad as the Rays offense has been, the pitching staff has been keeping them in most games, compiling a sterling 1.64 ERA over the team's last 16 games.
Tuesday's starter against Toronto, James Shields, was brilliant in his last performance, hurling a three-hitter in an 8-0 win over Oakland last week. The right-hander also has had a lot of success versus the Jays, amassing a career 9-5 mark with a 3.54 ERA, including three wins over his last four starts versus them.
The Blue Jays come in on the heels of a four-game split in Oakland, dropping the first two in the set before rallying to take the next two, including a 6-5 win on Sunday. Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run homer and Yunel Escobar drove in a pair in that one.
Taking the hill for Toronto on Tuesday will be left-hander J.A. Happ, who will be making his starting debut for the Blue Jays after four relief appearances.
Happ, who was acquired from Houston on July 20, was scheduled to be placed in the rotation this week but was moved up a few days after Carlos Villanueva left the team for personal reasons.
"We acquired (Happ) to (start)," manager John Farrell told the Blue Jays' website. "He remained patient while we had to go through and sort some things out. And his opportunity's here now."
Tampa Bay traditionally dominates Toronto in Central Florida and has won 15 consecutive home series against the Blue Jays, including taking two of three from them in late May.