PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays 3B Evan Longoria hit his first home run of the spring Sunday, a two-run shot that landed on the boardwalk in left field at Charlotte Sports Park.
“Longo, right now, that’s what he’s supposed to look like,” manager Joe Maddon said after the Rays’ 6-3 win against the Twins.
Longoria said that’s the result of an offseason spent getting ready for the season and not rehabbing from surgery, which he had done the previous two winters. The training he did before the 2013 season to improve the health of his hamstrings has been incorporated into his regular routine.
“I feel like it’s something I always have to do if I want to continue to be strong and stay healthy,” Longoria said. “I don’t feel like I’m guarding it, but at the same time, doing the same things, trying to keep it strong. I felt better. Coming into spring, it was nice not to have to go through a rehab program like I have for the past two years and focus on baseball activities and getting into shape.”
Maddon likes that Longoria is back to his low stance at the plate.
“That was a nice, easy swing and the ball went,” Maddon said of the home run. “He looks really comfortable.”
Longoria played in a career-high 160 games last season and hit 32 home runs — his third 30-plus homer season. So hitting one Sunday was, well, not as much as a big deal for Longoria as for those in the stands who watched it sail out of the park.
“It doesn’t tell the story of anything, but it’s nice to get one out of the way,” Longoria said. “It’s nice to play five full innings. My body felt good. I think overall, we looked pretty good. Everybody kind of looks in the swing of things.”
RHP Grant Balfour pitched for the Rays for the first time since Game 5 of the 2010 American League division series on Sunday, throwing a perfect third inning that included a strikeout and two ground outs.
“That’s a perfect outing for me, four pitches to three guys and 12 pitches,” he said. “I’ll take that any time.”
Like Longoria with his home run, Balfour downplayed the importance of Sunday’s outing, other than the fact it was the first one of the spring and he accomplished what he set out to accomplish.
“I want to go out there and locate my fastball and spin a couple and it couldn’t have gone any better, except for maybe I bounced a 50-footer. Might have got a little anxious,” he said. “If we were playing cricket, that was a pretty good ball. Other than that, the other 11 were good.”
RHP Alex Cobb was happy with his spring debut Sunday, when he pitched 1ª innings against the Twins.
Cobb, removed after throwing 34 pitches (26 strikes), threw his change-up and curveball for strikes. He also located his fastball.
“I felt really sharp with my pitches,” Cobb said. “There’s probably some improvement with fastball location consistency. A couple of pitches I got away with down the middle that normally wouldn’t happen in the regular season. I also threw some pitches in some counts I normally wouldn’t.”
2B Ben Zobrist was cleared to play in games and is scheduled to play three innings today against the visiting Phillies. ... RF Wil Myers had his contract renewed Sunday, and the Rays signed the remaining 20 pre-arbitration-eligible players on the 40-man roster. ... RF Jerry Sands homered in the sixth inning. “Watching him in batting practice in those days leading up to the first game, he’s been hitting balls into trees, a couple of those back into the trees on the back field,” Maddon said. “We’ve seen the power. That’s not a big surprise. He’s got technically a good swing for a big guy.” ... Maddon met Bucs coach Lovie Smith and 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick on Saturday night at the DeBartolo Family Foundation All-Star Charity Gala on Davis Islands.