ST. PETERSBURG - The Rays turned in a July to remember, winning 21 of 26 games and setting the franchise record for the best winning percentage in any month (.808).
And they did that with 3B Evan Longoria struggling at the plate.
Longoria hit .194 during the month with four home runs and 11 RBIs. Even with an 11-game hitting streak, Longoria's on-base percentage of .288 was the lowest for any month this season. It was .370 during both May and June.
"It's kind of unusual that we would play this well for this long with him struggling as much as he has at the plate," manager Joe Maddon said. "But how about his defense? During this time, he has played great defense, not good defense. That's a tribute to how he prepares for the day and what he's all about. The hitting is going to come back and he's going to start smoking the ball like he normally does."
Rested and ready
Maddon used Wednesday's 7-0 loss to the Diamondbacks to get some work for RHP Kyle Farnsworth, RHP Jamie Wright and LHP Cesar Ramos.
With the starters on their run of complete games and normally throwing deep in a game when not finishing the job, Maddon is having a hard time finding innings for those three.
What Maddon has been able to do is rest RHP Joel Peralta, which was his goal coming out of the All-Star break. Since working in back-to-back games during the July 19-21 series in Toronto, Peralta has made only two more appearances.
One reason the Rays traded for RHP Jesse Crain was to add another arm to the back of the bullpen so Peralta (53 appearances) doesn't have to pitch in every high-leverage seventh or eighth inning from now until the end of the season.
"(The starters are) permitting the bullpen to get some rest," Maddon said. "I was worried about Peralta at the end of the first half just based on appearances more than anything. Getting those complete games really makes a difference in the overall pitching performances."
Oh, to be a Ray
Crain is familiar with the Rays from having faced them, first with the Twins then as a member of the White Sox bullpen during the past three seasons.
He's heard all about the atmosphere and the post-victory dance parties from former Ray Jeff Keppinger, who signed with the White Sox in the offseason.
So when Crain learned he had been traded to the Rays, he couldn't wait to join the fun. Also, Crain has noticed how relief pitchers tend to become rejuvenated while wearing a Rays uniform.
"Seeing it from the other side, you see that they have a lot of fun. They play hard. They find ways to win. And obviously they have the best pitching in the league, all the way through," Crain said. "They pick up guys who are doing really well, and they might have struggled for a year or two, then the next thing you know, they're awesome. It's exciting to come into an organization and a group like this, to see how good you can actually be."
RF Wil Myers is batting .447 since the All-Star break and needs a hit tonight to tie Delmon Young's franchise mark for longest hitting streak by a rookie at 13. Myers' 12-gamer is tied with Akinori Iwamura (2007) for the second-longest by a Rays rookie. . The Rays' .808 winning percentage in July was the third-best in the month since 1921, trailing the 1941 Yankees (25-4, .862) and the 1945 Cubs (26-6, .813) . RHP Ramon Ramirez, who was with Triple-A Durham, was granted his release Thursday.