New spikes have Longoria feeling fresh
'Obvious difference' in comfort for Rays third baseman
NEW YORK -- Evan Longoria hit his 100th career home run on Friday night against the Yankees, driving an outside pitch into the New York bullpen in right-center field. But if the third baseman had not switched spikes after the All-Star break, he might simply have popped that pitch up.
Longoria said on Saturday that he is no longer bothered by a nerve problem in his left foot that had been causing him pain and affecting his swing. Thanks to a newer version of his spikes and a change in therapy from hot to cold, Longoria said he's as healthy as he has felt all season.
"The only reason I knew that the shoe helped was that I wore the new ones for, like, two games and the top material was kind of uncomfortable, but my foot didn't hurt," Longoria said on Saturday. "So I was kind of in between. And then I wore my older shoes that were more comfortable but made my foot hurt, and after two innings, it was killing me. I had to switch back to these."
Longoria, who has his own model of cleats manufactured by Nike, said he didn't ask for more room in the toe box but has been happy with the result, especially after he broke the shoes in.
"Lately, I've felt really good -- I feel like I have more plate coverage," Longoria said. "Like the pitch I had last night, I felt like I'm able to take the swing that I know how to take on that pitch instead of feeling like if I did, it I was going to hurt my foot or something.
"I don't like making excuses, but it's an obvious difference."
Longoria, who also spent a month on the disabled list with an oblique injury, entered Saturday with four homers and a .532 slugging percentage in August. He said he is resigned to finishing this season with a low average -- he's hitting .232 with a .330 on-base percentage -- but is happy with his power. Manager Joe Maddon said he expects Longoria to hit 25 or 30 home runs each season.
Longoria now has 100 homers in 519 career games but will leave predictions to others.
"I'm not talking about numbers," Longoria said. "I did that one year, and you know how it turned out for me."
Shoppach key to Shields' low steals total
NEW YORK -- Rays manager Joe Maddon often sings the praises of his defense and the plays his club makes in the field. But sometimes, it's those plays that the Rays don't have to make that can be the most impressive.
In his 24th start of the season on Tuesday against the Royals, James Shields finally allowed a stolen base. He hadn't allowed a successful steal in his first 171 1/3 innings in 2011, but opponents rarely even try against him. Including the successful steal by Kansas City's Eric Hosmer, opponents have attempted only five thefts this season.
Shields, who will face the Yankees in Sunday's series finale, said he can breathe easier now that the number is not a zero.
"One, two -- it's all the same now," Shields said. "Having zero on the year would have been a lot more special than having one."
Shields' career low for a full season is five stolen bases allowed. That came in 2009, when he threw 219 innings. He's had some help from his catchers this season. Kelly Shoppach, who plays mostly against left-handed starting pitchers, ranks first among qualifiers in throwing out opposing baserunners.
"I think the real baseball fan that will kind of dig a little bit and appreciates the game itself sees what he's done," Maddon said of Shoppach.
Runners have been successful only 56.3 percent of the time against Shoppach, but the change hasn't happened overnight.
"Two years ago, he wasn't throwing near his capacity -- we saw last year even in the playoffs he wasn't throwing like this," Maddon said. "This is something that happened this year. Some of it is technique, what he's doing with his feet. But a lot of it's pure arm strength -- he's just throwing the ball better."
When he faces the Yankees, Shields -- whether he's pitching to Shoppach or Robinson Chirinos -- will have to contend with the likes of Brett Gardner (36 steals), Curtis Granderson (22) and Eduardo Nunez (18, in only 78 games this season). But he has a simple plan.
"As long as I keep those guys off the basepaths, I don't have to worry about it," Shields said.
Thomas Boorstein is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.