ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have built their reputation on pitching and defense, but their offense has now carried them -- and produced more than any other team's -- for nearly a month.
In their last 23 games entering Sunday's series finale against the Padres, the Rays led the Majors with 132 runs scored (5.7 per game) while posting a collective .282/.350/.472 batting line. They ranked second in the Majors in batting average and slugging percentage and were tied with the Red Sox for the highest on-base percentage. They racked up 13 games with double-digit hits during that stretch.
And their pitchers, who so often took the mound last year knowing they had to be nearly perfect to win, have taken notice.
"We've been doing great," said lefty Matt Moore, who has been given 6.3 runs of support per game, the highest figure in the rotation and the seventh-highest in the American League. "It's not just the middle of the order. [Catcher Jose] Lobaton's been coming up. There's been a lot of guys contributing. It's definitely nice to go out there with a lead and knowing that we can score runs late."
The difference in production is obviously a far cry from last season, when the Rays finished 11th in the AL with 697 runs scored and 12th with a .240 average, but it is also a dramatic turnaround from their early-season scuffles. Over their first 13 games this season, the Rays ranked last in the AL in runs scored (39, three per game), average (.204), on-base percentage (.284) and slugging percentage (.305).
"Our offense has been feeling great," Ben Zobrist said. "If we can keep that going, we know our pitching's going to pitch better than they have been. So we're not worried about that. It's been a rough patch. You like to see the fact that when the hitters have a rough patch, the pitchers pick them up. And when the pitchers have a rough patch, the hitters pick them up. That's what good teams do, and that's what we've been doing the last few games here."
Gear adds color to already brilliant Rays catch
ST. PETERSBURG -- You might have noticed the pink sleeve on Sam Fuld's right forearm as he crashed into the wall in center field to rob Will Venable of extra bases in the first inning. Or you might have seen the pink wristband up by his elbow, or perhaps the pink necklace he wore or the pink ribbon on his jersey.
Fuld was one of several Rays to don special pink gear on Mother's Day, and all of Tampa Bay's uniformed personnel were outfitted with a pink ribbon on their jerseys. The game was played with a special Rawlings ball with pink stitching, a few players used pink bats and third-base coach Tom Foley sported some bright pink shoes.
And the Rays continued what they would surely like to see become a Mother's Day tradition: They won their third straight Mother's Day game since being on the wrong end of Dallas Braden's perfect game in Oakland in 2010.
Third baseman Evan Longoria drew a walk while using a pink bat in his first plate appearance Sunday, though he went back to his usual lumber when he clubbed a double to lead off the sixth inning. Every Tampa Bay player who contributed to Sunday's 4-2 win over San Diego sported at least some pink gear, whether it was James Loney with his pink sleeve and wristbands or Yunel Escobar sporting a similar look.
But the Rays' most prominent pink gear -- the stuff most likely to be seen again and again -- was that worn by "Super" Sam Fuld as he raced toward the fence, left his feet and completed another spectacular defensive play.
"Those plays are difficult, because it's tough to take your eye off the ball here; it's easy to lose it," Fuld said. "I lost it for a while. I was just running to where I thought it was going to be, then I was lucky to pick it back up."
The Rays also gave away a "Rays Flower Pot" to the first 10,000 women who entered Tropicana Field on Sunday. Tampa Bay is now 8-8 all-time on Mother's Day.
Known for defense, Loney not disappointing at plate
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays knew they were getting a quality defensive first baseman when they signed James Loney to a one-year, $2 million deal in early December. That much was a given.
"He's a Gold Glove first baseman," Evan Longoria said. "That goes without saying."
But Loney's bat was the real question. Though manager Joe Maddon called his raw power "severe," Loney has never been much of a home run hitter, with only 73 over his first seven Major League seasons. Tampa Bay knew he would make contact, sure, but would that result in a .249 average like last year's or something more in line with the .288/.346/.427 batting line he posted with the Dodgers from 2007-11?
So far, it has been the latter. And then some.
Loney entered Sunday afternoon's game hitting .371, second in the American League, with a .426 on-base percentage and .533 slugging percentage. He unloaded on a towering homer Saturday night that nearly hit the wall at Tropicana Field. He has had seven three-hit games this year, tied for the most in the Majors, and he has helped spark a much-improved Tampa Bay offense.
"He's been our hottest hitter," Longoria said. "Really, it's no surprise to me. Just watching from the outside, I know he had a ton of success in L.A. When they signed him in the offseason, I was excited about having him around because he's one of those guys -- you look at [general manager Andrew Friedman's] track record here and the guys that he's been able to sign that have had really good careers outside of maybe their last one or two years and been able to come here and have success.
"So it's no surprise to me that he's having the success that he is. Obviously he's one of the focal points of our offense right now."
The biggest question now is whether Loney can sustain his pace. Not that anyone is predicting that he will finish the year batting .370, of course, but can he remain a middle-of-the-order force for the Rays? Manager Joe Maddon believes so, in part because he has seen a side of Loney that he seldom, if ever, shows to those outside the clubhouse.
"I think he can because he uses the whole field," Maddon said. "He has showed me some emotion that nobody else has seen that I really love. But he plays with a lack of emotion in some ways outwardly that I think can be confusing. He's shown me some things that I think this guy is way more competitive than people realize. But then again, he's able to process things well, so that's why I think he can hit."
Jennings sits out Padres series with lingering soreness
ST. PETERSBURG -- Desmond Jennings was out of the starting lineup Sunday for the third straight game because of a groin injury.
He worked out on the field before the game with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield and hit in the batting cage. As he did Saturday, Jennings said he would be able to play if manager Joe Maddon needed him to pinch-hit or enter as a late-inning replacement. But that was not the plan Sunday, meaning he would most likely enter Tuesday's series opener against the Red Sox with four days to rest the groin he injured Thursday while diving back to first base.
"It feels good, feels better than it did yesterday, which is always good," Jennings said. "I'm not going to play today just to give it the whole day plus the off-day, come in on Tuesday and hopefully be completely gone and be ready to play on Tuesday.
"If I had to play, yeah, I would. If it was later in September or October, I'd definitely be playing. But just trying to get it all the way cleaned up."
Jennings did not know whether playing on Tropicana Field's artificial turf had anything to do with the injury, but Maddon is generally cautious when it comes to resting his players at home to prevent further injury.
"My game is my legs, you know, and I don't want to do something that can affect me for two months instead of like two days," Jennings said.
• Not only was Longoria's walk-off homer Saturday night his first since 2011's "Game 162" at Tropicana Field, the seventh-inning grand slam by the Padres' Jesus Guzman was the first allowed by Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field since that same night, when Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira connected off David Price.
• Longoria's walk-off homer was clocked at 112.8 mph off his bat, the fastest by any Rays player since Hideki Matsui took Wei-Yin Chen deep on June 1, 2012.
The Rays have had three of the AL's hottest hitters since April 26 in Longoria, whose .424 average in that span leads the league, Loney (.411, third) and Kelly Johnson (.383, sixth).
• To celebrate Mother's Day, the Rays gave away Rays flower pots to the first 10,000 women in attendance Sunday.