"When you look out at the field and you feel like it's quality at every spot, that's really a nice feeling," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We have quality at every spot, even when we move things around."
Last season's Rays experienced a meteoric fall in the field, dropping from the best fielding percentage in the American League in 2011 to the worst in 2012. Now, with Longoria back and a few additions, the Rays look ready to be in a position to move back to the top of the class on defense.
"We've fed off our defense a lot historically," Maddon said. "That's just how we play. I really think those were exceptional plays [in Tuesday's loss to the Orioles]. You make one or two a night and that's a lot. But normally in the past, when we've had really good seasons, we've fed off those defensive moments. And I thought we did [Tuesday] night."
Not only does quality defense give the offense a boost and save runs, Maddon pointed out it "also keeps pitchers in the game longer" by helping to keep their pitch counts down.
"It's about making plays like [the ones made Tuesday], but it's also about making plays in general," Maddon said. "If you make the plays you're supposed to make -- don't give up baserunners -- that in itself keeps pitchers in games longer, too. So all that stuff is part of the equation."
When asked if he would prefer a team that made web gems constantly or one that made the routine play with consistency, Maddon went with the latter.
"I'll take that every day of the week," Maddon said. "I mean the exceptional play can sometimes spark an offense. There's no doubt. I really believe that, but to play [steady] defense and save our pitchers pitches permits starters to stay in games deeper and keeps the bullpen on the bench longer."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.