ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Kelly Johnson’s recent outburst is no surprise to someone known for offensive displays of his own: Evan Longoria.
A day after Johnson, a Tampa Bay Rays infielder/outfielder, went 4 for 5 with two home runs and six RBI in a 10-6 victory over the Miami Marlins, the star third baseman praised his streaking teammate.
When asked if Johnson’s numbers this season — a .296 batting average with a team-high 10 home runs and 32 RBI — surprised him, Longoria had a simple response.
“No, not really,” he said. “I played against Kelly for half a year in Toronto. I had seen him play a ton in the past on TV. I know he is a talented guy, and he does a lot of things well.”
Johnson, who played for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, agreed to a one-year, $2.45 million deal with the Rays in late January as a free agent. Before a game Tuesday against the Marlins at Tropicana Field, Johnson ranked second in the majors in May with 24 RBI, behind only the 29 produced by the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera.
For Johnson, the 24 RBI are a career-high for a calendar month, topping the 19 he had with the Atlanta Braves in September 2008. Longoria, with 31 in May 2009, owns the Rays’ record for RBI in a single month.
“Even last night, him stealing third in that situation (in the sixth inning on an intentional walk to Longoria), that is such a smart baseball play,” Longoria said. “That is kind of what he brings to this team, not only his ability to hit the ball but just a total character baseball player, being able to play multiple positions, obviously something that (manager) Joe Maddon likes. And obviously, he has taken to that really well.”
On Monday night, Maddon praised Johnson’s progression with Tampa Bay, particularly the swing adjustments the player has fine-tuned with batting coach Derek Shelton. Johnson, for his part, said he remains poised.
“I feel good, and I feel confident,” Johnson said Monday. “That’s important to me. I think you’re always searching for something that’s going to let you feel confident, and you try to just roll with it. It can be different daily, weekly – it’s just the way baseball is. You’re not going to sit here and analyze it and try to figure it out. But I do feel confident, and that’s the best thing you can do is not try to go too hard, try to be too big and hit the ball too hard. Just enjoy it.”