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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

Rays notes: Escobar doesn’t expect to be out long

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The Rays expect to learn before tonight’s game with the White Sox the extent of SS Yunel Escobar’s right hamstring injury and how many more games he will miss.

Escobar, who felt tightness in his hamstring while running to first base after his sixth-inning single Wednesday, said Thursday the hamstring felt better and he doesn’t expect to miss too much time.

Escobar did not play Thursday and is not expected to play tonight. UTL Ben Zobrist will take over at shortstop until Escobar returns.

Manager Joe Maddon said he doesn’t expect Escobar to be out for an extended period. But, given Escobar’s position and how hard he runs, he won’t return until the hamstring is fully healed.

“The only thing I’ve asked him to do is run hard to first base, and he’s done that harder than anybody else on the team,” Maddon said. “Everything he does is pretty much 100 percent. We’ll see how this is going to play out. I don’t anticipate anything awful, but the guy does go after it pretty hard every day.”

Escobar has been struggling at the plate. His batting average, after going 6-for-21 on the latest homestand with a pair of home runs and four RBIs, is .164. Maddon, though, said he’s pleased with Escobar’s play, especially at short where he is much more flashy — Maddon uses the worm “chrome” — than Zobrist.

“I used to like a non-chrome infield,” Maddon said. “With him I encourage the chrome. It’s part of his personality to play the game that way. It’s how he grew up. Every day before the game I call him, ‘El Niño, El Niño.’ I want him to play like the little boy that he was growing up at Cuba. I never would want to coach the young man, the boy, out of Yunel. That’s a big part of why he is good and will be successful in the future. So I kind of actually enjoy it with him.”

Zo at short Zobrist is the choice to back up Escobar despite the fact UTL Sean Rodriguez was the Opening Day shortstop in 2012.

Zobrist took over at short fulltime last August and played 47 games. His play, coupled with the return of 3B Evan Longoria, helped settle the infield.

“At the end of last season we all thought that Ben did a nice job and we all wanted to stay with that,” Maddon said. “Sean’s doing a nice job in the other role we put him in, so I don’t want to mess that up now.”

Zobrist said he’s ready for the move because he took a lot of ground balls there during spring training and periodically since the regular season began.

“When I went there (Wednesday) I didn’t feel terribly uncomfortable,” Zobrist said. “I expect it to feel pretty normal.”

This traveling gnome Maddon kept one of the Joe Maddon Gnomes given away during Wednesday’s game at Tropicana Field and brought it with him on the road trip.

The gnome, know as “Joe Gno,” sits in his office during games.

“He’s going to have a chance to have a good road trip,” Maddon said. “I’m not just going to judge him on one game or two games. I’ll give him the whole body of work, let him go through the road trip and see if he earns the right to be displayed at home, also.”

Maddon said he was surprised at how well his gnome was received. Oakland manager Bob Melvin asked Maddon to send him one. Maddon said he had one mailed to his daughter.

“I was kind of actually surprised by the whole thing. I was,” Maddon said. “I did not expect that kind of response to it. All positive. All fun. A lot of tongue-in-check stuff, which I appreciate. Whoever thought of it, I think it turned out to be a pretty good idea.”

The gnomes were selling Thursday on eBay for as much as $55.

“That’s ridiculous,” Maddon said.

So he wouldn’t pay $55 for a Joe Gno?

“Noooooo, heck no,” Maddon said. “For me? Five bucks.”

Good pitching The Rays have tossed an American League-high five shutouts this season, matching the Giants and Cardinals for the most in the majors.

“That’s pretty darn good,” Maddon said.

The Rays allowed only nine runs during the six-game homestand and lowered the team ERA from 4.55 to 3.66.

“You do expect that among our guys. It was nice to see that reaffirmed, validated, whatever,” Maddon said. “We’re going to pitch like that pretty much all year. We’ll have our anomaly game once in a while, but that’s who the guys are.”

Noteworthy The Rays listed on the All-Star ballot are C Jose Molina, 1B James Loney, Zobrist (2B), Longoria, Escobar, DH Luke Scott and outfielders Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce and Kelly Johnson.

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