ST. PETERSBURG Powered by LF Kelly Johnson, the Rays offense has flipped the script and is now the engine the drives the team.
"It definitely is a little bit of a change and a welcomed change for us on the offensive end," 3B Evan Longoria said before Tuesday's game with the Marlins. "It's good to know offensively that we're able to produce some runs and help them."
No Ray is swinging a hotter bat than Johnson, who entered Tuesday's game with a .570 slugging percentage, third best in the American League.
Johnson led the team with 10 home runs and 32 RBI, becoming just the first player in team history to led in those categories through 50 games. His 24 RBI through Monday were the second most this month to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera who had 29. In 23 games beginning April 17, Johnson was batting .365, a run that raised his season average to .296 entering Tuesday's game.
"He's been as hot as it comes this month," Longoria said.
With Johnson's resurgence and with Longoria (.323 prior to Tuesday's game) and 1B James Loney (.342 after Monday) leading the way, the Rays have produced a major league-high 208 runs since April 17.
Manager Joe Maddon calls it a "swarming offense," because the Rays do so many things to score runs from home runs to sacrifice flies.
"It is," Longoria said, "because you kind of get it from all angles because you can't predict all the angles in this lineup."
Along the way, the Rays bats have managed to take much of the heat off hitting coach Derek Shelton.
"I think we all understand how hard Shelt works, how well he's respected from the offensive guys in this clubhouse," Longoria said. "We know how hard he works and how much pride he has in his job, so it's good to see the results and it?s good to see us producing, not for him but, I guess, on his behalf."
Now, about Jennings CF Desmond Jennings found himself hitting seventh for the second consecutive game Tuesday, and Maddon indicated Jennings will remain there until he figures out a few things with this swing.
"It's up to him," Maddon said when asked when Jennings might return to the leadoff spot.
Maddon said Jennings is chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone.
"When he sees his pitch it's got to be hit hard and kept fair," Maddon said, "and he's got to get back to his usual strike zone."
Fixing Hernandez RHP Roberto Hernandez returns to the mound tonight after allowing 10 runs in 14 hits in six combined innings in his last two starts.
"We just got to get to get him back on task," Maddon said. "What does that mean. Aggressive down in the zone, more ground balls out of him, utilizing his better pitches at the right time, sliders and his changeup. Changeup is a really good pitch. I keep using the word confidence. A lot of our guys are teetering on their good confidence and maybe not so good confidence level. That's all it is, man, cause he's healthy, he's fine. We just got to get him back down in his zone."
Maddon said they've worked on a few things with Hernandez, more strategic than mechanical. But Hernandez was supposed to make the changes before his last start.
"We nailed some stuff down and we're going to see if it plays out," Maddon said. "I also thought so last outing, too. But sometimes it takes a little bit more time to make an adjustment or get a point across."
LHP David Price (left triceps strain) played catch Tuesday for the second consecutive day. He threw the ball 35 times at a distance between 60 and 75 feet.
The plan is for Price to rest his arm today then resume throwing Thursday and Friday. The Rays have yet to announce a timetable for Price's rehab.
Maddon said he does not plan on starting DH Luke Scott in the field during these two games in Miami. But Maddon said Scott could find himself playing either first base or the outfield should the need arise for a double-switch ... Despite his poor outing Monday, Maddon said RHP Jake Odorizzi is expected to make his scheduled start Saturday afternoon in Cleveland ... 1B James Loney's fielder's choice in the second inning of Sunday's game against the Yankees has been changed to an infield single ... The Rays wore their batting practice caps during Tuesday's game ... The Rays Baseball Foundation awarded grants totaling $100,000 to 17 Bay area nonprofit organizations.