ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 24: Infielder Sean Rodriguez #1 (left) of the Tampa Bay Rays hugs Elliot Johnson #9 after Johnson singled in the winning run in the tenth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Tropicana Field on August 24, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Rays superstar Evan Longoria has not played a single game in May thanks to an injury on the final day of April that forced him to the disabled list. In Longoria's absence we have seen the likes of Jeff Keppinger, Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, Drew Sutton, and Will Rhymes spend time at the hot corner, and we have even seen one inning of Chris Gimenez at third base.
The revolving door of injuries has even forced some of the revolving third base door options to miss some time. Keppinger is on the disabled list with a broken foot suffered while sitting in the dugout and Rhymes missed some time after he passed out on the field after being hit by a pitch. Ben Zobrist has barely seen time in the infield and has pretty much been the starting right fielder with Desmond Jennings also hurt.
The plethora of injuries has forced Maddon to use an infield, most nights, that consists of Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, and Will Rhymes. Elliot Johnson has started 15 games in a row. Think about that for a moment. But, you know what, it has worked. And since Longoria hit the disabled list, we have seen these players step up their game.
In the month of April, when Longoria was healthy and on his way to what looked like his best season yet, Will Rhymes was in Durham and Drew Sutton was in the Atlanta Braves organization before being traded to, not us, but the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates then shipped Sutton off to the Rays shortly after acquiring him.
Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, and Jeff Keppinger were all struggling to start the season while Sutton and Rhymes were in Triple-A. Take a quick look at Rodriguez, Johnson, and Keppinger's numbers for the month of April and Rhymes and Sutton's while in Triple-A:
Meanwhile, Longoria was hitting .329/.433/.561 with a 169 wRC+ and .232 ISO in 97 plate appearances. Once Longoria went down I thought there was no way the Rays could replace his production. But I was reminded, again, why I should not cast doubt on Rays management.
Manager Joe Maddon has worked some serious magic since Longoria has been on the disabled list. The incumbents that Maddon has penciled in nightly have sufficiently made up for the lost production. Take a quick look at their numbers in his absence:
Rhymes is the only one who has a weak offensive output but he does have a +1.0 UZR and +0.6 Bsr. He adds vale both on defense and on the base paths.
I know, we are looking at one month's sample size for three players and even less for two other players. Sutton will not hit like this and at some point the rest of the guys have to come back to Earth as well. But, even if they cannot keep up their performances when Longoria returns at least the Rays got the best of these role players at a time when they needed it the most.