ST. PETERSBURG -- Although Monday's series opener against the Yankees started at 1:10 p.m. ET, following up a day of travel from Toronto, Evan Longoria was back in the Rays starting lineup, batting cleanup and playing third base.
The partially torn left hamstring that kept Longoria out for more than three months is still lingering, but it's becoming less of a problem.
"Like I said when I came back, we are a better team -- we're able to put a better lineup out there -- when I can play third," Longoria said. "So I knew coming down the stretch that I was going to have to play through some discomfort, and this is the time. ... It feels just fine on a daily basis, and I'm able to go first to third and hit doubles now with no hesitation."
Prior to Monday's 4-3 win over the Yankees, Longoria said his goal was to avoid taking a day off for the rest of the month. Just before the top of the eighth inning, though, he was removed from the game despite the score being tied at 3. Manager Joe Maddon said after the game that it was his decision to remove Longoria, hoping to keep his third baseman fresh.
"That was purely based on the flight yesterday, coming in today," Maddon said. "He had done his job for today. I wanted to get him out at that point."
Longoria reiterated that the travel day and the hard surfaces of Tropicana Field and Rogers Centre, where the Rays played a weekend series, were the reasons he was removed, not an injury.
"It was a mutual decision," Longoria said. "This was the first time I think I've played third base after a travel day. It was just kind of a little fatigue, and that was it."
Longoria grounded out to second base to end the seventh before being removed. Since Longoria returned from the disabled list, the Rays have been cautious with him, telling the third baseman not to run out grounders and limiting his time playing the field.
Elliot Johnson was moved over to third base in Longoria's absence, and Reid Brignac entered the game at shortstop. Longoria finished the game 1-for-4 with an RBI single.
With the Rays battling for a playoff spot, Longoria said he knows the importance of finishing strong, starting with Monday's series opener.
"We've got to be focused on a nightly basis -- or a daily basis now," Longoria said. "They're all going to matter. They're all going to be just as important as the next. You don't want to go home at the beginning of October thinking that you should've done something differently or you could've done something differently."