ST. PETERSBURG - 3B Evan Longoria was on the field Saturday 90 minutes before batting practice working on his swing with hitting coaches Derek Shelton and Jamie Nelson. Longoria entered Saturday's game hitless in his previous 14 at-bats and had a .194 average in his previous 25 games. He extended his run of at least one strikeout a game to 23 straight when he struck out in the first inning. Both Shelton and manager Joe Maddon said before the game they aren't concerned. Maddon said he saw signs of Longoria emerging from the slump. "I think he's just going through the little lull that all hitters go through," Shelton said. "He's been good for so long. I think the one thing is he's been out of the (strike) zone lately a little bit, which I think he's done such a good job early on. It's just been kind of magnified that he's swinging at the bad pitches and taking the good ones."
Maddon said he talked with Longoria after Friday's 0-for-4, two-strikeout night and told Longoria he would remain in the No. 3 spot in the order and that Maddon had not lost faith in him. Maddon said he was encouraged by Longoria's final at-bat Friday, which ended with a hard-hit grounder to third base that became an inning-ending forceout. "Because of the way the bat got to the ball, the sound of the ball off the bat, it looked familiar to me," Maddon said. "I know overall (Friday) the results weren't that great, but he looked more like he had in the past. Normally it's not a flip of the switch and you get right back where you had been. But I thought it was kind of noticeable, the differences. Let's just see what happens the next day or two." Maddon said he will remain patient with Longoria, especially since having Longoria in the lineup means Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base. Shelton said the early BP provides a better setting to work with a hitter, because you can stop and talk about what's going on. He said he was encouraged by Saturday's session, but he's not going to be too concerned because it's Longoria. "I know he's had some strikeouts and he's had some situations where he's swung at some bad pitches, but other than that, in the midst of this stretch he had an 11-game hitting streak and hit four homers," Shelton said. "I think it's magnified when a player of his caliber goes through something. This guy is one of the best players in the game. So am I going to worry about him for a two-week stretch? No, I'm not doing that. I'm not doing that at all." Bounce for Roberto? RHP Roberto Hernandez returns to the mound this afternoon for the first time since his best performance as a Ray, a five-hit, complete-game victory in a 5-2 win against the Diamondbacks to start the homestand. Hernandez was able to work the bottom of the strike zone that night. Any pitch that was up was in a location where the hitter couldn't make solid contact. In short, it was the type of game the Rays expected when they signed Hernandez in December but have seen infrequently this season. Maddon said he expects what Hernandez did against the Diamondbacks to carry over to today's start. "I want to believe so," Maddon said. "I know for him it's kind of like a comeback season, so I think to do something like that can definitely matter and it can create a bounce." Good night for Cobb RHP Alex Cobb (concussion/blister) thew 56 pitches in four innings Saturday during his minor-league rehab start with Single-A Charlotte. He said the blister on his right index finger, which has delayed his comeback by nearly two weeks, was not an issue. "We did exactly what we were out here to do," Cobb said. "We wanted to get up and down four innings with no issues and we did. It was a big step for me to be able to pitch in a game situation with the adrenaline going and atmosphere to get that comfort level again of competing. All the things we were trying to do went well." Cobb said he will make his second rehab start Thursday for the Stone Crabs. Pitcher's BP RHP Chris Archer homered twice when the pitchers took BP before Saturday's game in preparation for the upcoming road trip to a pair of National League parks. That's wasn't too much of a surprise. What was a surprise was that the relief pitchers hit. "You never now, you might have to have them stick in the lineup a little bit," Maddon said. "If they need to play through based on how the game is in progress and they have to hit, then you don't want them to be totally unprepared for that. It's possible. You try to avoid it, but it's possible." Noteworthy LHP Matt Moore (sore left elbow) will play catch today for the first time since going on the DL on Wednesday. ... Newly minted Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp will throw out the first pitch Aug. 24 before the Rays-Yankees game. Maddon, who said he has met Sapp a few times, said the former Bucs defensive tackle will receive a Friend O'Rays shirt. Maddon said Sapp should fit into an XXL. If not, "We can sew two together," Maddon said. ... SS Yunel Escobar took some swings left-handed during BP. Maddon said he's not opposed to letting Escobar swing left-handed during a game. ... The Rays are expecting a sellout this afternoon.