ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Evan Longoria-Wil Myers look in the lineup could become a strong asset for the Tampa Bay Rays as Myers continues to grow in the game.
The 22-year-old slugger, batting fifth behind Longoria on Tuesday for the third time, has shown that intentionally walking the Rays’ star third baseman to reach him could provide its own risk. Myers smacked a single to left center in the fourth inning with two outs, scoring Desmond Jennings from third after Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle intentionally walked Longoria during the Rays’ 5-1 victory at Tropicana Field.
The situation was similar to last Saturday at Yankee Stadium, when New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia intentionally walked Longoria in the sixth. Myers answered with a 376-foot grand slam to right field.
“They tested out the young guy,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “They did it in New York, and he came through. They did it today, and he came through once again. That just makes us better, obviously. … With Wil in there now, the more they attempt to not pitch to Longo and (Myers) succeeds, the better it is for all of us.”
That’s simple to see, because Myers has fared well behind Longoria in the fifth spot. Including his 1-for-4 showing Tuesday with the RBI, he has hit 5 for 13 with five RBI batting behind Longoria. (He appeared behind Longoria for the first time last Thursday, a victory over the Yankees and went 1 for 5.)
In Myers’ six other games, he has appeared in the sixth slot behind either James Loney or Yunel Escobar. Still, the Longoria-Myers look provides the Rays with versatility, and it is intriguing to consider how dangerous the combination could become, especially when facing left-handed pitching that Myers enjoys particular success against.
This is part of the depth Maddon and Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations, envisioned when they promoted Myers from Triple-A Durham on June 16. They pictured Myers giving the Rays a spark, and he has done that to this point.
Myers is hitting .289 with two home runs and eight RBI. Also impressively, he is 2 for 3 in at-bats when the hitter before him has been intentionally walked. The results: The grand slam, a groundout and the RBI single.
“Of course it can be,” Maddon said, when asked if Myers hitting behind Longoria could become a consistent look in the Rays’ lineup in the future. “It will be for a long time. You’ve just got to keep them well. It’s quite a nice combination.”
How long before opponents stop walking Longoria to get to Myers?
“Relatively soon, I think,” Maddon said. “As he keeps coming, they’ll talk about Wil. He got a hit against Buehrle after they walked (Longoria), and they’ll talk about how he hit a grand slam in New York after they walked (Longoria). As he continues to come through, that’s going to go away.”
If Myers continues to produce, perhaps that will happen sooner than later.
As the Yankees and Blue Jays have learned recently, working around Longoria to reach Myers comes with dangers of its own.