Martin Fennelly Columns
Longoria, Rays just have to find a way
ST. PETERSBURG - So, how was your day? The Rays were hours from a clean getaway in April. They came away 15-8, in first place, a great start, capped by a 12th-inning walk-off win Monday against Seattle on a run-scoring single by Elliot Johnson, in for Evan Longoria, who left the game early and … Oops. Tuesday came and with it the news that Longoria, Mr. 162, will be out four weeks, maybe eight weeks, perhaps six weeks, with a partial tear of his left hamstring.We might be talking All-Star break. Well, so much for that safe, sound April. And to think Tuesday morning began with a crowded Tropicana Field media session with incoming Hideki Matsui, who has signed a minor league contract and will report to Port Charlotte today. Wonder if he'll work out at third base? Johnson, who delivered his first RBI of the season Monday, played third on Tuesday. He entered the game hitting .190. It will be mix and match for quite a while. So far, so good: The Rays won, 3-1, despite collecting just three hits. They've won 9 of 10. They have twice as many wins as losses this season. "We'll see what tomorrow has tomorrow," Johnson said. Also in the mix and match are Jeff Keppinger (four RBIs), Sean Rodriguez (.190) and Will Rhymes, who was called up from Durham to replace Longoria on the roster. Rhymes was hitting .231 in Triple-A. In other news, Kyle Farnsworth, last year's closer, was transported to the 60-day disabled list. And former No. 1 draft pick Tim Beckham, who might possibly have been in the infield plans, eventually, was suspended for 50 games for a second violation of the minor league drug prevention and treatment program. How was your day? At this point, we'd do well to remember that these are: the Rays. "We figure it out," Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said. "We always seem to find a way." Longoria missed a long stretch near the end of his rookie of the year 2008 season. He missed a long stretch to start 2011. The Rays made the World Series in 2008 and last season, in 162, well, you know … But is it ever a good thing when No. 3 goes down? This might become the longest stretch yet. "We did pretty good without Longo for a little while, but it doesn't mean we didn't miss him," Johnson said. "He's our guy, he's the franchise player. How do you replace those guys? You really don't. You just try to weather the storm until he can get back in here and get back to being Longo." Tuesday night, Rays manager Joe Maddon invoked 2008, when nearly every Rays position player was down with an injury at one time or another, and last season, when Longoria went down early. Maddon mentioned the added offense this season, notably Carlos Pena and Luke Scott, so picking up the slack might be easier. And maybe, down the road, there will be Hideki Matsui. "For us, it's just another thing we have to fight through," Maddon said. "We've done these things before. It's never easy, but we can do it." The Rays have shown an incredible penchant for that. Or don't you remember Dan Johnson? And there was Super Sam Fuld last season. Last week, Brandon Allen, who began the season in Japan, won a game for the Rays with a walk-off homer. And there was Elliot Johnson on Monday. And there is pitching, starting and otherwise. Heading into Tuesday, the Rays have won 12 of their 15 games. In that stretch, the pitchers have twirled to a 2.35 ERA. There is that. "It's just the way we play," Upton said. "I couldn't tell you how or why. It's tough to say you could replace a guy like that. But we have guys who step in and don't try to do too much, just what's needed to help. We figure it out, we always do." They did Tuesday. Matt Joyce hit an RBI triple and solo homer and Matt Moore got his first win of the season and closer Fernando Rodney picked up his eighth save, all without Evan Longoria — now they'll just have to do it again, for maybe two more months. How was your day?