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.