July 17, 2014

While the pitching staff has often kept them close, the Tampa Bay Rays haven't done enough at the plate to string together victories. Evan Longoria, the club's longest tenured player, is taking matters into his own hands.

The third baseman will try to stay hot as the visiting Rays look to win three straight for the first time in two weeks Sunday against the Minnesota Twins.

Tampa Bay starters entered Saturday with the AL's sixth-best ERA at 4.18, but the team sat 13th in the league in both average (.238) and runs (217).

Longoria, in his ninth season with the Rays, is doing all he can to get the offense turned around. The three-time All-Star is batting .419 with four home runs, three doubles and 11 RBIs over an eight-game hitting streak.

Longoria hit his 12th homer and third in this series in Saturday's 7-4 win. It's the first time since August 2013 that he's homered in three straight. No Rays player has done it in four straight since Carlos Pena's franchise-record six-game run in June 2010.

"Not that this is the priority thing, but Longo's sticking himself right into the All-Star mix the way he's playing," manager Kevin Cash said. "So, good for him, good for us."

Logan Morrison, Steven Souza Jr. and Hank Conger also went deep as the Rays moved in position to take the final three of this four-game set. They hadn't won two in a row since a season high-tying four-game run from May 16-20.

Morrison has heated up with a .424 average, five homers, three doubles and 15 RBIs in his last 19 games after batting .119 with no RBIs in his first 28.

"We've just got to start winning some games, get the feeling back and just bring some of the energy back to the clubhouse," Longoria said. "It's really tough to create that without winning."

Minnesota starter Tyler Duffey (2-4, 4.57 ERA) has only given up four home runs over 41 1/3 innings in seven outings. The right-hander, however, has posted an 8.47 ERA while allowing 28 hits over 17 innings in his last three.

In his only career start versus Tampa Bay (24-30), Duffey allowed two runs, seven hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings in a 5-3 road victory in August. Longoria went 1 for 3 with a double when facing him in that contest.

Tampa Bay will counter with Drew Smyly (2-7, 4.77), who hopes to avoid dropping a career-worst fourth straight start. He gave up career highs of eight runs and 12 hits over four innings in Tuesday's 10-5 loss at Kansas City.

The left-hander had a 1.74 ERA in four career starts versus Minnesota (16-39) before allowing four runs and eight hits over 4 1/3 innings in a 5-4 win in August. Eduardo Escobar is 4 for 6 with two home runs off him, while Miguel Sano is 2 for 3 with a double and Kurt Suzuki 3 for 5 with two doubles.

Joe Mauer, Eduardo Nunez, Byron Buxton and Brian Dozier each had two hits Saturday. Nunez is hitting .413 with three homers in his last 10 games, while Dozier has 11 RBIs over a nine-game hitting streak versus Tampa Bay.

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