Rays' Longoria expects to play this season

BY foxsports • July 13, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG – Evan Longoria has heard the doubts and read the tweets that question his competiveness. But much as he'd like to, the catalyst of the Tampa Bay Rays can't answer the question that surfaces so often: When will he return to the lineup?

The one thing Longoria is adamant about, however, is that his season isn't over.

"I've seen a lot of reports, a lot of people talking about how my year is done — I don't believe my year is done by any means," he told reporters Friday, prior to Boston's 3-1 win over the Rays in the opener of a three-game series at the Trop.

"But I wish I could give anybody a concrete time frame. There are a lot of things I can do. It feels sometimes I'm so close and sometimes I'm still so far away."

The power-hitting third baseman has been gone from the lineup since May 1, when he was batting .329 and appeared poised for a big season following his injury-plagued campaign of 2011. His prolonged absence has had a profound impact on the Rays, who have struggled offensively and defensively without him.

The latest report from the club on Longoria's status — as he rehabilitates his partially torn left hamstring — is that there is still no firm timetable for his return. Still, if all goes well in the next week or 10 days, he could conceivably begin his second rehab assignment soon after and potentially be ready to rejoin the team sometime in mid-August.

Yet even that scenario isn't guaranteed, given the uncertain nature of hamstring injuries. Longoria appeared to be making progress last month when he joined the Durham Bulls for what was expected to be a return in early July. But while stretching in the dugout, he was accidentally bumped by another player and wound up tweaking the hamstring — promptly shutting down his short-lived rehab stint.

"That setback was going to happen, from the determination of our doctors, the way that it happened, it was something that was unavoidable," he said.

Now nobody wants to take any chances on another setback, though Longoria insists he's feeling better in most respects.

"I've just got to continue to strengthen it," he said. "That's really all I've been doing. There are just a couple of things that really hinder me. The main thing is just trying to go for a back-handed ground ball. Other than that, I swing the bat fine. I've been jogging and getting up to pretty good speeds and none of that really bothers me. It's just a couple of things that bother me."

What's the issue with back-handed moves?

"That movement, it's something that can't be recreated by any kind of activity that you can do in the gym," he said. "I've taken ground balls out there. Taken ground balls straight on and going to my left are fine. But when I have to take that hard cross-over step to my backhand and really dig into getting that back-hand ground ball, it doesn't feel so good. It's just weird."

Longoria says he can only continue to work hard toward returning — and try to not to focus on the frustration and occasional negative remarks.

"It's been mentally really, really tough to go through," he said. "It's tough to look at my Twitter every day and (see people) say that I'm not the competitor or the player they thought."

Longoria has also heard critical comments of his decision to take time off from his rehab last week to fly to Los Angeles and attend the ESPY's, where his walk-off home run in Game 162 had been nominated as best sports moment in 2011.

"That angers you at some point," he said. "I can walk around. I'm still allowed to have fun. We all need to have time to get away from the game, time to mentally recover, because, like I said, it has been tough, regardless if I was at the All-Star Game, or I was not and I was here in Tampa and I was healthy, I was going to go the ESPYs. It's not like nobody can have fun."

"I kind of just like the proof to be in the pudding," he added. "I get paid to play baseball, not worry about what other people say about it. I'll continue to do my job."

As it turns out, Tim Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in overtime, lifting Denver to a dramatic playoff victory, was selected as the winner.

"The Rays should have won best moment," he said. "I wasn't upset. I thought — not to take away from that moment — but it was something that's been done before. It's a touchdown pass thrown in overtime to win a football game. Not to downplay that at all, but what we did — what happened that last day of the season last year — will never happen probably in our lifetimes or in my children's lifetimes."

That moment seems like a lifetime ago now for Longoria, who wouldn't mind serving as designated hitter if it meant getting back in the lineup sooner than later. He says he's pain-free when he hits.

"I actually asked (trainer) Ron (Porterfield) that today," he said. "I don't know if he's going to get upset at me for saying that to you guys, but at this point I don't really care. I kind of just want to be back on the field.

"I can hit. I've been hitting. Theoretically, I'm going to get to the point where I can run, fairly shortly, or pretty good, I asked him today. He said it's something to think."

"I know we have two DHs already, but if we can get Hideki (Matsui) and Luke (Scott) healthy to the point where they can play the field," he continued. "(That would) give me the opportunity to DH any given amount of days. I just want to help at some point."

Longoria takes solace in the fact that he hasn't had any further setbacks. "It hasn't progressed the way I would have liked it,' he said, "but it hasn't gone backwards either."

Meanwhile, he forges on with his rehab and tries to remain optimistic amid the uncertainty.

"I can be sincere and say I don't think that year is over with," he said. "Nobody has told me that. I haven't told myself that. And so I just continue to push forward and hopefully, whether it's two days, two weeks or two months, at some point I'll be able to play again."

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