Blue Jays-Rays Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays' offense has stalled. The return of third baseman Evan Longoria should help change that.
Longoria will be activated for the first time since late April in Tuesday night's series opener in St. Petersburg, where James Shields looks to build off his best start of the season with another strong outing against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Near the bottom of the league with 434 runs, Tampa Bay (56-52) has gone 21 consecutive innings without scoring after back-to-back home losses to Baltimore over the weekend.
"I'm at the point now where I'd really like them to do less as opposed to more," manager Joe Maddon told the Rays' official website following Sunday's 1-0, 10-inning loss. "... I'd rather us go the other way, back off with the work, go play, come with a fresh mind and body, and I think we'll have a better result."
The Rays have scored four total runs while losing four of five in St. Petersburg, but having Longoria back for the first time since he partially tore his left hamstring April 30 could provide a much-needed lift for a team challenging for an AL wild-card spot.
Longoria, who was batting .329 with four homers and 19 RBIs before being hurt, went 2 for 3 with a walk for Triple-A Durham on Sunday in his eighth rehab appearance.
While the Rays' offense remains an issue, the pitching staff continues to impress with a 1.64 ERA over the last 16 games. Tampa Bay's relievers have a 0.54 ERA during that stretch.
That group got a break in Shields' last start, an 8-0 three-hitter in Oakland last Tuesday. Shields (9-7, 4.24 ERA), who was 1-3 with a 6.15 ERA in his previous seven outings, was pitching hours after learning he'd be staying put at the trade deadline.
"It really hadn't bothered me but it's good to be a Ray," the right-hander said after striking out a season high-tying 11 for his seventh career shutout. "This is my home. I'm glad to be here."
The Blue Jays (53-55) would likely have preferred to see Shields move elsewhere considering he's 3-0 with a 1.10 ERA in his last four starts in the series.
After Shields pitched three-run ball of 7 1-3 innings May 23, the Rays won their 15th consecutive home series versus Toronto with a 5-4, 11-inning victory.
Left-hander J.A. Happ (0-0, 5.14) will try to help the Blue Jays solve their woes in St. Petersburg as he takes Brett Cecil's spot in the rotation for his Toronto starting debut after four relief appearances.
Happ's start was moved up two days when right-hander Carlos Villanueva left the team for personal reasons.
"We acquired (Happ) to (start)," manager John Farrell told the Blue Jays' official website. "He remained patient while we had to go through and sort some things out. And his opportunity's here now."
Recent Triple-A call-ups Adeiny Hechavarria and Anthony Gose had their opportunity in wins at Oakland on Saturday and Sunday, but it appears third baseman Brett Lawrie (rib cage tightness) and center fielder Colby Rasmus (strained groin) will return Tuesday.
While Jose Bautista (sprained wrist) and Adam Lind (back) remain sidelined, the Blue Jays scored nine times in those victories after plating 12 total runs during a season-high six-game skid.
"We have a deep organization," Rajai Davis said. "We got some hitters that are definitely very good."
Edwin Encarnacion, the team leader with a career-high 29 homers, is 9 for 30 with two home runs and five RBIs as the Blue Jays have lost six of eight to Tampa Bay this season. He's 1 for 9 against Shields since 2011.
Second baseman Ben Zobrist should be back in Tampa Bay's lineup after leaving Sunday's game with upper-back spasms.
Updated August 6, 2012