Defense sparkles even with game in hand
Longoria, Crawford make gem plays in ninth inning
ST. PETERSBURG -- What happened in the ninth inning of Saturday night's 9-3 win over the Blue Jays put an exclamation point on the kind of baseball the Rays are playing these days.
Jose Bautista began the Blue Jays' ninth by hitting a ball to Evan Longoria's left. The Rays third baseman dove, picked the ball and threw to first for the out. Later, with two outs, Travis Snider hit a sinking liner to the gap in left-center field. At this point, Tampa Bay held a six-run lead. But enter Crawford, who did what he seems to do at least once a game, diving to his left to rob the base hit and end the game.
Mike Ekstrom pitched the ninth for the Rays and was the beneficiary of the glove work by Longoria and Crawford.
"It was great to watch. They play just as hard if it's a tie game or if it's a blowout and we're just mopping up the innings," Ekstrom said. "Two diving plays, outing over, it was great."
Eckstrom then allowed himself a smile: "I'm just a web gem enabler."
Shoppach's recovery starts off well
ST. PETERSBURG -- Kelly Shoppach had just finished riding a stationary bicycle when he talked to reporters Sunday morning.
The Rays catcher went on the 15-day disabled list on April 13 with a right-knee sprain. The injury turned out to be more serious, and Shoppach had arthroscopic surgery performed Monday by team orthopedic surgeon Koco Eaton to repair the meniscus.
"[I] lost the crutch today, rode the bike, did some things, walked around," Shoppach said. "[I feel] as good as I can for six days out."
Shoppach injured his knee during an April 10 game against the Yankees in a home-plate collision with Curtis Granderson. When the pain lingered, Shoppach went on the disabled list.
Shoppach said it's too early to speculate about when he might return.
"I'm a catcher, you know," Shoppach said. "It's a little bit different than another position player."
Shoppach called missing time "disappointing."
"[Surgery] wasn't an easy decision," Shoppach said. "There was a lot of thought going into it, where what could go when and how. ... We think we made an educated decision and a choice to try to get this taken care of now, so maybe it doesn't affect me later on this season or even later in my career."
Shoppach said he thought about trying to play through the injury.
"Definitely, I'd never missed time before, so it was really tough for me," Shoppach said. "But my wife has been really great. ... She's been really great for me. That's kind of why you put that support system in place as a man. You have a backup plan and a backbone to your life. She's been really great; my family has as well. You just feel obligated, not only to your teammates, but to the organization and everyone. They put the faith in you to perform. Obviously if you don't have the chance to play, you can't perform."
Shoppach is an aggressive go-getter, so he admits that one of the tougher aspects of his rehab will be to know when he needs to back off and not push it. Rays manager Joe Maddon said the expected timetable for Shoppach's return is six weeks after the operation.
Maddon pleased by Jaso's at-bats
ST. PETERSBURG -- Manager Joe Maddon spoke glowingly about the work backup catcher John Jaso, whom he referred to as "Mikey," has been doing in Kelly Shoppach's absence. In particular, Saturday night's game when he hit his first Major League home run. Jaso connected in the fifth inning for a two-run homer when the Toronto defense was expecting a bunt.
"I like the idea they were charging him on the bunt yesterday and he hit the ball like 20 rows back, and that's got to be a very disconcerting feeling for the first baseman," Maddon said. "His at-bats in general have been really, really good. Drawing walks. Laying off of borderline pitches ... just good at-bats. He's playing well."
Jaso has made three starts before Sunday, twice catching James Shields and once Jeff Niemann. Maddon said there have been no complaints about what Jaso's been doing behind the plate. He also explained the Mikey moniker.
Maddon set up the story by recounting how Jaso had spent a day hanging around with first baseman Carlos Pena. "They were just buddying up," Maddon said. "And the next day, they come to the Spring Training site, and [Pena] addresses him as Mikey. He didn't even know his first name was John. Ever since that day he's been Mikey."
Rays fans can begin placing their All-Star votes at Tropicana Field beginning Tuesday. ... Sunday's game completes a stretch in which the Rays played 16 of their first 19 games against teams from the American League East. ... Saturday night marked the Rays' 11th win since last year's All-Star break when trailing after seven innings and the third time this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the most in the Major Leagues over that span; the Tigers are next with nine such victories. ... The Rays have scored 20 runs in the eighth inning, their most in any frame this season. ... There's still no word on whether Dioner Navarro will receive a suspension or fine for bumping an umpire after getting ejected from Friday night's game.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.