6-4 lineups; Longo, Bartlett progressing

ST. PETERSBURG — When you score nine runs without your best player, you don’t tend to change things up the following game.

For Thursday, the Rays didn’t alter much in the starting lineup, except Michel Hernandez will give Dioner Navarro a breather behind the plate with the relatively quick turnaround, and Joe Dillon will serve as the designated hitter against Royals starter Gil Meche.
Evan Longoria (sore left hamstring) is available to pinch-hit on Thursday, but he has not been running at full speed yet. Manager Joe Maddon said if he bats, he’ll “waddle” to first base, and the Rays will get a pinch-runner. Longoria said he hopes to start at third base for the opener of a four-game series against the Yankees on Friday, but that has yet to be determined.
The 23-year-old hit live pitching in the batting cage on Thursday — there was no BP on the field — jogged and played catch. The only thing left is to run at full speed.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett (left ankle sprain) was able to jog on Wednesday — which he called “the biggest step” in his recovery — and though he felt a bit sore from that on Thursday, he said he “really can’t make [the ankle] worse.” This weekend, Bartlett will start running some arcs to further test the injury, then progress into taking ground balls and hitting more live pitching.
The 29-year-old is eligible to come off his DL stint Wednesday, but he’s not sure if he’ll be ready by that time. Bartlett does not, however, think he’ll need to play in Minor League rehab games before getting back. 
“As long as I can come out and get some ground balls in and take some BP, I should be fine,” he said.
On to the lineups, as the Rays look to move to .500 for the eighth time this season:
Coco Crisp, CF
Alberto Callaspo, 2B
Billy Butler, 1B
Mike Jacobs, DH
Jose Guillen, RF
Mark Teahen, 3B
Miguel Olivo, C
David DeJesus, LF
Willie Bloomquist, SS
SP: Meche
B.J. Upton, CF
Carl Crawford, LF
Willy Aybar, 3B
Carlos Pena, 1B
Ben Zobrist, 2B
Matt Joyce, RF
Dillon, DH
Hernandez, C
Reid Brignac, SS
SP: James Shields
— Alden Gonzalez


Do you think JP Howell is going to take over closer duties? It seems that Joe Maddon had been playing matchups prior to today, but I found it interesting that Howell was the choice in the 9th even though two right-handed hitters were due up. Adding to that, Dan Wheeler hasn’t even appeared in a game since May 29. I’m guessing Maddon may not announce a new closer, but do you think today’s game was an indication that Howell is now the closer?

Frankly, no. Maddon said it after the game. Howell was great — he needed just seven pitches to get through that inning — but it’s going to continue to be based on matchups. That’s just the way he likes it. Don’t make too much of one ninth inning by Howell — though it was a good one. He’s only had five career saves in 124 career appearances.

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