ST. PETERSBURG -- How did Kelly Johnson end up starting at third base Thursday night, his first Major League appearance at the hot corner?
It starts with Evan Longoria. Rays manager Joe Maddon wanted to give Tampa Bay's star third baseman a night off his feet on the artificial turf at Tropicana Field, so he slotted Longoria into the lineup at designated hitter. But Maddon also wanted to play Sam Fuld in the lineup and especially in left field, particularly with flyball pitcher Jeremy Hellickson getting the start against the Royals.
The Royals started right-hander Ervin Santana, so that meant Matt Joyce would need to be in the lineup, leaving Ben Zobrist at second base instead of right field. The only opening for the left-handed-hitting Johnson, then, was third base, where he did some work in Spring Training -- and quite a bit more before and during batting practice.
"[Third-base coach Tom Foley] thought he looked really good out there, and I'm looking forward to seeing him," Maddon said.
Johnson acknowledged after taking early grounders at third that he was not particularly comfortable there. Maddon noted that he could use Ryan Roberts as a late-game defensive replacement if necessary. But if Johnson put together a good performance at third, Maddon would not rule out using him there again.
"It gives us another option against a right-handed pitcher to get both those guys in the game," Maddon said. "And again, when we're pitching our flyball pitchers, it actually sets up pretty well."