The Rays try for an eighth win in nine meetings with the Toronto Blue Jays as these AL East rivals continue a three-game set Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
After failing to score in each of its previous two games, Tampa Bay (57-52) took Tuesday's series opener 4-1. James Shields threw eight strong innings while Longoria - playing his first game since April 30 - went 1 for 3 with an RBI. The three-time All-Star third baseman missed 85 games with a partially torn left hamstring.
"It's weird going into a game just trying to make it out healthy," he said. "Sometimes it's little things that are important, and today was huge stepping stone. There was nothing about today that was negative. No setbacks, I felt great."
Tampa Bay went 41-44 during Longoria's absence but has won nine of its last 10 when he plays. Longoria is batting .329 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 24 games.
"I'm just as happy as anyone else that Longo is back," Shields said. "Just to see him back in the clubhouse and see him out on the field. He's the leader in this clubhouse, that's what it comes down to."
The Rays have taken seven of their last eight meetings with the Blue Jays, outscoring Toronto 51-26.
Loser of seven of nine overall, Toronto (53-56) tries to bounce back behind Carlos Villanueva (6-1, 3.19 ERA). After winning a career-best four consecutive starts, the right-hander surrendered four runs and seven hits over six innings of a 5-3 loss at Seattle last Wednesday to suffer his first defeat of the season.
"It's very frustrating," he told MLB's official website. "I thought today I had the best fastball command I've had maybe since I started. The problem, the only problem, was my slider to lefties, the backdoor slider, I just couldn't get it down and in enough."
In his lone start versus Tampa Bay, Villanueva was tagged for a career-high eight runs and nine hits over 2 2-3 innings of a 9-1 road loss Aug. 3, 2011. He's also struggled in three relief appearances against the Rays this season, yielding seven runs in three innings. Six of those runs came during a 12-2 defeat April 18.
Villanueva can't be looking forward to facing Ben Zobrist , who's taken him deep three times in five at-bats.
The Rays will turn to Alex Cobb (5-8, 4.60), who snapped a career worst-tying three-start losing streak with an impressive display last Wednesday. The right-hander scattered four hits and struck out six over seven innings of one-run ball in a 4-1 victory at Oakland.
"That was more what he looked like in July last year when he came up and helped us out," manager Joe Maddon said of Cobb, who went 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA over nine starts in 2011. "Better command of his fastball, threw some really good curveballs. Changeup had more depth."
Cobb, who has never faced Toronto, has compiled a 6.75 ERA while losing each of his last three home starts.
It's unknown if he'll have to face Brett Lawrie , who missed his third straight contest Tuesday with tightness in his rib cage. The third baseman is mired in a 3-for-21 (.143) slump.
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|August 03, 2012||Brett Lawrie||Day-to-Day||Left game - rib cage tightness|
|July 26, 2012||Joel Carreno||15-Day DL|
|July 26, 2012||J.P. Arencibia||15-Day DL||Broken right hand|
|July 26, 2012||Adam Lind||15-Day DL||Mid-back strain|
|July 25, 2012||J.P. Arencibia||Day-to-Day||Broken right hand|
|July 17, 2012||Jason Frasor||15-Day DL||Right forearm tightness|
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|August 05, 2012||Ben Zobrist||Day-to-Day||Left game - upper back spasms|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Alex Cobb||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|July 02, 2012||Hideki Matsui||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|June 30, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right shin|
|June 29, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Alex Cobb turned an impressive breaking ball into his second straight strong performance.
Cobb pitched seven solid innings, helping the Tampa Bay Rays keep up their home dominance of Toronto in a 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays on Wednesday night.
"That was the best curve I've seen all year from any of our pitchers," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "To both righties and lefties, it was quick, it was hard, there was no hump in it. It was absolutely great, and I think that set up the whole game for him."
Cobb (6-8) allowed one run and five hits, striking out seven. The right-hander was coming off a start last Wednesday when also gave up one run over seven innings in a 4-1 victory against Oakland.
"The curveball was probably the best it has been all year," Cobb said. "I was able to throw it for a strike when I wanted, out of the zone when I wanted, and it had some good bite to it."
The Rays clinched their 16th consecutive home series win over Toronto by winning the first two games of the three-game set. The longest such streak in AL history is 19, held by the New York Yankees against the St. Louis Browns from 1946-51.
After Joel Peralta fanned all three batters he faced in the eighth, Fernando Rodney got his 34th save despite giving up David Cooper 's one-out, solo homer in the ninth.
Cooper's shot stopped Rodney's scoreless streak at 22 innings, one short of James Shields ' team record set in 2011.
Evan Longoria went 0 for 4, including three strikeouts, in his second game back as the Rays' designated hitter after sitting out 85 games because of a partially torn left hamstring.
The Blue Jays did get some good news postgame about injured slugger Jose Bautista , who had an MRI exam earlier in the day on his injured left wrist.
Toronto manager John Farrell said Bautista has been cleared to take dry swings and hit off a tee on Monday.
"At that point, it's still proceed with his tolerance to any kind of discomfort," Farrell said. "This will be a cautious approach and we'll monitor it daily. Hopefully with some additional time down, he'll get back into the swing of things. Looking forward to getting him back, making progress towards eventual activation."
Bautista has been on the disabled list since July 17. The MRI exam showed improvement, but some inflammation in one small spot.
Carlos Villanueva (6-2), who rejoined the team Tuesday after tending to a personal matter, gave up three runs and six hits in six innings for the Blue Jays. Toronto has lost eight of 11, scoring just 29 runs over the stretch.
"We seem to struggle for some reason playing in this ballpark." Villanueva said.
B.J. Upton hit an RBI double and scored when Longoria grounded into a double play, and Jeff Keppinger hit a run-scoring single as the Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead during the third.
The Blue Jays went ahead 1-0 on Edwin Encarnacion 's sacrifice fly in the third.
Longoria struck out with a runner on a second and two outs in the first. He had one hit in three at-bats, and a sacrifice fly, in his return in Tuesday night's 4-1 win over the Blue Jays.
NOTES: Rays DH Luke Scott (oblique) could be ready to start a minor league rehab assignment in the next few days. ... Blue Jays 3B Brett Lawrie missed his fourth consecutive game because of a rib cage injury. Lawrie, who had an MRI exam Tuesday night that showed some oblique inflammation, said he feels a lot better. ... Rays RHP Jeff Niemann (broken right fibula) allowed one run over 2 2-3 innings in his first start for Class A Charlotte. ... Toronto RHP Drew Carpenter, designated for assignment last Friday, has elected to become a free agent.