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Rays' Evan Longoria is at a loss as to why he's struggling

Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays hits

Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays hits a three-run home run in the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox during Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field. (Oct. 7, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Check the on-base plus slugging percentage leaders this season and it takes a while to find Evan Longoria. Scroll down the list . . . Keep scrolling. See the names Yangervis Solarte and Nick Castellanos? All right, now scroll down a bit more.


Longoria entered Tuesday night's game 99th in the majors with a .725 OPS. That's a career-low .330 on-base with a .395 slugging percentage unbecoming, well, a slugger.

What gives? Better yet, what has given?

"I don't know," the Tampa Bay Rays star said. "If we knew, we would've figured it out earlier and made changes quicker. I wish there was one thing I could point to."

Quite confounding. The third baseman is hitting .265 and his 10 homers are among only 23 extra-base hits. That puts him considerably below his .856 career OPS and well off the pace for the 30 homers he has averaged in five full seasons.

Those numbers are part of the reason the Rays have scored only 324 runs -- eighth fewest in the majors. And that number is a big part of the reason Tampa Bay, a contender the last several years, still is in last place in a mediocre American League East, despite having won eight of its last 11.

The offensive malaise isn't exclusive to Longoria, obviously. This lineup never was built to be a juggernaut, and Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce haven't performed up to expectations, either. Plus leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings, once a highly-touted prospect, has struggled to hit consistently.

But Longoria, 28, is the three-time All Star, the brand name, and the face of this franchise. He also is signed through 2022.

"He's our main guy," Joyce said. "He's a huge part of the lineup and someone we look up to and count on."

And they're counting on him for much more than he has been able to deliver thus far. Longoria was 2-for-4 with singles in the third and eighth innings in Tuesday night's 2-1 win over the Yankees at the Stadium.

Bad luck, perhaps, has been a factor in his struggles. Teammates said Longoria has had an inordinate number of "at 'em balls" -- pitches hit squarely that seem to find a fielder's glove -- and they insisted he is due for a hot streak.

"He's the kind of guy that can hit 15 home runs real quick and then his numbers are right up to where you expect," Jennings said. "Why wouldn't he get hot?"

Longoria is hitting line drives on 22.6 percent of the balls he puts in play, according to FanGraphs. If that continues it would be a career high and up from 18 percent last year, when he had an .841 OPS and drilled 32 homers. He is, however, also hitting more grounders (42.5 percent) than ever before.

He batted .265 with five homers in June, which was his most productive month. Longoria insists he is healthy and said he's not being pitched to any differently, nor has his approach changed.

"I'm sure it'll come," he said of his numbers. "It's not something that I'm too concerned about. If I hit two more homers the rest of the year and those two help us win two games needed to get into the playoffs, that's really what's important to me."

That's a nice sentiment. But, realistically, if the Rays' cleanup hitter can manage only two more homers, it's unlikely his team will have a chance at the postseason.

"Obviously you want to do what you're expected to do offensively," he said. "So I understand that it's going to take more offense from myself for us to win. I'm working a lot in the cage and I'm hoping I can heat up soon."

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