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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Rays Beat: Hot-hitting Longo could swing club's fortunes

— It was the third inning Friday night, and the bases were loaded with two outs in a scoreless game. That's when you want your best hitter at the plate. That's when your best hitter wants to be at the plate.

Evan Longoria would agree, especially since it was his turn to bat.

As first halves of the season go, Longoria has had better.

He had 11 home runs before the All-Star break and a .386 slugging percentage. He had 18 homers during the first half last season and finished with 32.

Longoria said he was inconsistent during the first half, said he never really found that groove. He's turned to looking at video from past seasons for clues.

“Highlights when I was good,” he said.

What can the Rays use most during the second half of the season? What could really help improve their chances of making a run at the playoffs? What could keep David Price in a Rays uniform for the rest of the season?

Longo being Longo.

“My god,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That would be outstanding.”

The Rays' offense has showed a pulse during these past three weeks. Meanwhile, Longoria had three hits in 22 at-bats on the last homestand.

“Everyone is starting to trend in the right direction offensively,” Maddon said. “Longo is the guy if we get him really going in the right direction can make the biggest difference of all. There's no denying that.”

Longoria came through Friday with a line drive to right-center field that cleared the bases and gave the Rays all the runs they needed in a 6-2 victory. Afterward, he said it was the type of moment that builds confidence, that can help him achieve his goal for the second half, and that is to do whatever he can to help the Rays win.

“It's not about me, it's not about personal successes,” Longoria said. “It's about winning. I do understand that me playing well and offensively doing what I'm capable of doing is going to help that cause.”

The thought among Maddon and hitting coach Derek Shelton is that Longo will return to being Longo.

“He can hit. He's going to hit,” Shelton said. “If there are things that are going to keep me up at night, Longo not hitting is not one of them.”

History is on Longoria's side. He has a higher slugging percentage and a higher on-base plus slugging percentage during the second half of the season than the first. Entering this season, he's hit more home runs in the second half and his two highest home run totals for any month are August (33) and September/October (35).

“There's no doubt if I can figure out a way to get hot and start to produce more consistently offensively, then hopefully it will take some pressure off of some guys and allow us to get into more of a rhythm offensively,” Longoria said.

That's not easy to do, he added. Those video sessions do not always lead to answers.

Longoria said he's thinking too much about his mechanics these days rather than just trusting his swing and letting the bat do the work. He admits to placing pressure on himself to succeed but not so much pressure that it has become counterproductive.

“The pressure is there. I'll definitely embrace it,” Longoria said. “I'm excited for the challenge. I think the team has really started to come into its own and we can do something special. We can have an exciting second half and I'm looking forward to that challenge to get myself going again, figuring out what it is that is going to allow me to do that.”

Longoria called this his toughest year, one in which it sometimes feels as if he's never before tried to hit major-league pitching.

But a strong finish can change everything.

“It goes back to really accepting that challenge of being a better player and just doing what I know I'm capable of doing and not doing any more,” he said. “I think it goes back to at the end of the year, being able to look back and say, 'Did I do enough? Did I live up to my own expectations for myself? With the team, how are we going to come out of this and have a successful season?' ”

Success, he said, equals one thing — playoffs.

“That's the goal now,” he said.

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