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."
Maddon tossed for arguing close call at second
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon was ejected from Monday's 4-3 win over the Yankees in the bottom of the eighth inning by second-base umpire Bob Davidson for disputing a call at second base.
Maddon argued that pinch-runner Rich Thompson, who was attempting to steal second base, was safe, but Davidson ruled that shortstop Derek Jeter applied a tag before Thompson reached the bag.
"Retrospectively, I've heard Bob was right," Maddon said. "Bob, I'm telling you, you were right. I apologize. I didn't say anything really bad. I really enjoy Bob. Bob is an old-school umpire, and he and I have done this before."
Three batters after Maddon was ejected, Chris Gimenez snapped a 3-3 tie with a two-out RBI single that scored Ryan Roberts, who had stolen second base after singling.
The ejection was the third of the season for Maddon and his 26th as the manager of the Rays.
"He did not want to throw me out," Maddon joked. "He said some funny things, and I had to keep a straight face and keep arguing in spite of it because he's a very entertaining umpire on top of that."
Shoulder inflammation clouds Niemann's status
ST. PETERSBURG -- The rest of the season is now up in the air for right-hander Jeff Niemann after the Rays training staff diagnosed him with slight inflammation in his right rotator cuff.
"I'm hoping, man," Niemann said of the possibility that he'll pitch again this season. "I'm still staying positive. Things are all right. We'll just take a few days and see how I respond, come back and see what's up."
Niemann was making his first start in more than three months on Saturday when the injury occurred. He had previously missed time due to a broken right lower leg.
"It's definitely frustrating to do as much as we've done and have gone through as much as we've gone through already this season, to have something like this happen at a very inopportune time for the team," Niemann said. "It's not fun. We're just going to take it day by day and see where it goes."
While rehabbing his leg injury, Niemann tried to retain strength in his throwing arm. He made four rehab starts in the Minor Leagues before being recalled and lasting just 3 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said that Niemann will be out indefinitely. The right-hander is still waiting to see if an MRI exam will be needed, but he expects to undergo an exam soon.
"It's frustrating; it's just part of the game, I guess," Niemann said. "We've been through a lot. I'm not letting anything slow me down. If anything, a speed bump -- get over it and get back out there."
Rodriguez hopes to help Rays in September
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez, who fractured his right hand last week while playing for Triple-A Durham, is confident he'll be able to return before the end of the season.
Rodriguez took grounders before Monday's series opener against the Yankees and flipped balls back in with his broken hand, still unable to throw the ball. He said doctors are planning to have Rodriguez undergo more X-rays "in a couple weeks" to see if the fracture is healing correctly.
"There's a good chance I'll be back; it's just a matter of when," Rodriguez confidently said. "I've just got to make sure I'm ready when I come back."
The injury occurred when Rodriguez punched a locker after a Bulls game last Tuesday. He had been optioned on Aug. 21 and was set to be called up when rosters expanded on Saturday.
"Even the slightest bit of aggravation can slow the healing process," Rodriguez said. "That's what I don't want to do."
Rays manager Joe Maddon had said that Rodriguez would have seen time in his return to the Majors. Tampa Bay entered Monday's action 1 1/2 games behind Baltimore for the second American League Wild Card spot and 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees for the AL East lead. Rodriguez regretted not being able to contribute much down the stretch.
"That's been the hardest thing," Rodriguez said. "I made a bone-headed mistake, something that was immature. It's stupid. That's probably the least of it. The fact that everybody in here has to suffer from that [hurts]."
Rodriguez was hitting .215 this season prior to being optioned.
Recovery advancing, Chirinos remains thankful
ST. PETERSBURG -- Even with all of the new faces in the Rays clubhouse, the most popular guy could be Robinson Chirinos.
The catcher hasn't played in a game this season for Tampa Bay due to a concussion. He had been rehabbing with the Rays' Class A Advanced Charlotte affiliate and is watching the series against the Yankees before going on an instructional league assignment next week.
"I'm really excited to have that come," Chirinos said. "It's a blessing. It was a tough year, and being here around the guys -- I just thank God for giving me the opportunity again."
Chirinos said the rehabilitation process has been difficult and wouldn't wish it on anybody. He said at one point, he was questioning if he would play again, but doctors, family members and the Rays organization continued to encourage him along the way.
"When everything was getting back to normal, I realized everything was going to be fine," Chirinos said. "I've been doing the last month what I love -- swinging, running and being outside. I just thank God every day."
In the meantime, though, Chirinos will serve as the Rays' cheerleader from the dugout. He's planning on taking some batting practice and maybe taking part in a bullpen session before each game.
Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.