Rangers-Rays Preview

Evan Longoria is finally starting to look comfortable at the
plate for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Longoria looks to continue swinging a hot bat and lead the Rays
to back-to-back wins for the first time in three weeks in
Wednesday’s series finale against the Texas Rangers.

The season started badly for Longoria, who left Tampa Bay’s
second game with a strained left oblique muscle and spent one month
on the disabled list.

The three-time All-Star was batting .209 with two homers just
five days ago, but appears to be finally getting on track.

Longoria hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning, and
the Rays (29-25) beat the Rangers 5-4 on Tuesday. Longoria was back
in the cleanup spot after three games hitting leadoff, a move
designed to help him work out of an offensive funk.

“When you start building back that confidence you haven’t had,
it makes it easier,” said Longoria, 7 for 14 with two homers, three
RBIs and five walks in his last four games. “To get those results,
and get back into the four-spot and have an opportunity to help the
team win a game and come through, it just adds to your
confidence.”

Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez also hit home runs for the Rays,
who have homered in a season-high six straight games after going a
season-worst four consecutive games without hitting one.

Texas (29-26), meanwhile, failed to hit a home run Tuesday after
clobbering 15 in its previous four games. Josh Hamilton and Nelson
Cruz were 1 for 8 Tuesday after combining for six RBIs in the
previous three games – all wins.

Joyce’s homer was his ninth for Tampa Bay, which hasn’t won
consecutive games since a three-game run from May 11-13. Joyce is
hitting a major league-best .370 and led all batters with a .414
average in May.

“You just see the ball well sometimes,” the right fielder
said.

Tuesday’s win snapped a four-game losing streak to the Rangers
at Tropicana Field. Texas, which won Monday’s series opener 11-5,
also won all three in St. Petersburg to beat Tampa Bay in five
games in last season’s AL division series.

David Price (6-4, 3.54 ERA) squared off against Cliff Lee in
Games 1 and 5, losing both. The Rays staff ace recorded a 4.97 ERA
while striking out 14 over 12 2-3 innings.

Hamilton and Michael Young were a combined 1 for 14 against
Price in last season’s playoffs, but Cruz and Ian Kinsler were 6
for 12 with one homer and one double.

Price hasn’t had any better luck against the Rangers in the
regular season, going 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA in four starts.

Price is hoping to build on one of his best starts after
allowing four hits while striking out a career-high 12 in seven
innings in Friday’s 5-0 win over Cleveland. The left-hander had
yielded five runs in each of his previous two outings.

The Rangers counter with Colby Lewis (4-5, 3.90), who permitted
six runs – all in the first two innings – and seven hits in
Friday’s 12-7, 14-inning loss to Kansas City. After the shaky
start, the right-hander, who was 2-1 with a 1.17 ERA in his
previous three outings, retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced
and was lifted after the seventh inning.

Lewis pitched well against Tampa Bay in Game 3 of the ALDS,
scattering two hits and five walks in five scoreless innings, but
the Rays rallied for a 6-3 win. That was Lewis’ first start against
Tampa Bay since 2003.