08/10/12 9:02 PM ET
Rays' long road begins in Twin Cities
By Jordan Garretson / MLB.com
Tampa Bay will be looking to replicate the success of its last road trip, in which it went 6-3 against Baltimore, Los Angeles and Oakland from July 24-Aug. 1.
After three games in Minnesota this weekend, the Rays will head West again for three games against the Mariners and four games against the Angels.
"It's a big one for us," pitcher David Price said of the trip. "Facing the Twins -- they've been swinging the bat extremely well. Seattle's been playing very good baseball the past month. And then we go back to L.A. That's a team that is right with us in the Wild Card standings, somebody we're going to be trying to chase down. It's a good chance for us to come back after winning the road series we did on our last trip."
Tampa Bay entered Friday's game 20-14 on the road since May 13 and 32-27 away from Tropicana Field this season. The Rays also hit better away from home, posting a .239 average and 226 runs compared to .224 and 222 runs at home, despite playing in seven fewer road games.
"I just think we swing the bats better [on the road]," manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't know what it is. I don't know why it is. It's gotta be psychological as much as anything. It seems to me that we hit better on the road than we do at home."
Feeling strong, Longoria eschews day off
MINNEAPOLIS -- Evan Longoria was back in Tampa Bay's lineup for a fourth straight day on Friday.
He served as designated hitter and batted fourth for the Rays against the Twins, his fourth contest since missing 85 games with a partially torn left hamstring.
Manager Joe Maddon originally planned on giving Longoria the day off, but head trainer Ron Porterfield was adamant that he could play, Maddon said.
"I feel good," Longoria said. "No setbacks, no lingering stiffness or soreness. I haven't been asked to do a whole lot, as far as running and really stretching it out. I've been able to contribute in some ways and just do enough.
"So that's kind of what I hope to do right now, is just try to stay at that speed, that gear, and I don't think there's any way I can do any further damage in that gear. And hopefully it gives it a chance to get better, better enough for me to play the field soon."
Neither Longoria nor Maddon would put a firm timetable on when they expect him to return to third base. But Maddon said it likely wouldn't take place during the Rays' current 10-game road trip.
"I'm glad that he does feel better," Maddon said. "But for me personally, I'm not anticipating him playing third base on this road trip. If it were to happen, it'd be a great surprise."
Tampa Bay entered Friday having won three straight games since Longoria's return. He went 3-for-5 with 2 RBIs in Thursday's 7-1 win over Toronto, and went 4-for-12 in the series against the Blue Jays.
But the value of Longoria's return to the clubhouse may be equally as important as his statistical production. The Rays are 18-8 this season with Longoria in the lineup.
"He's our guy," pitcher David Price said. "He's the face of our organization. It definitely helps out. It's a different feeling when he's in that lineup.
"He makes people feel good. I don't know what it is. He keeps rallies going, he starts them, he drives in guys. It just bolsters the confidence of everybody else that's watching him."
Zobrist back at shortstop for second straight game
MINNEAPOLIS -- Before Thursday, Ben Zobrist hadn't started at shortstop since 2009. Now he's starting there for the second day in a row.
Rays manager Joe Maddon slotted Zobrist as his starting shortstop for Friday's series opener against the Twins, the continuation of what he called an "interesting experiment."
Maddon said he's more likely to pencil Zobrist in at that spot when flyball pitchers like Matt Moore and Friday's starter Jeremy Hellickson are on the mound.
"I wanted to take a shot because I wanted to see what it looks like," Maddon said. "It's something moving forward that could be very beneficial for us if it actually works out that way, with Luke [Scott] coming back, and hopefully [Evan] Longoria will be able to play third base -- which also creates another cool little wrinkle."
Zobrist, who is hitting .253 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs, spent most of his first two seasons with Tampa Bay at shortstop.
"He's really comfortable [playing shortstop]," Maddon said. "Zo will let you know fast if he's not liking something. He's all for it. It probably takes him back to the day.
"He's been all for it, man. There's been no hesitation on his part."
Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.