PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Tony La Russa visited Port Charlotte this past week to inform the Rays about some rule changes going into place this season. Among those brought to light by the special assistant to the Commissioner was the one that declared that a pitcher can no longer fake a throw to third then throw to first. Doing so will now result in a balk.
Joe Maddon wasn't crazy about the change, noting that the play was "misunderstood."
"A lot of people thought it was a worthless move that had no significance because nobody was picked off," the Rays manager said. "And that was the furthest thing from the truth."
Maddon pointed out basestealers will love the change. He believes the reason the rule change was made was to try and loosen up the offense.
"That's exactly what's going to happen," Maddon said. "It puts a lot more pressure on the pitcher. A lot more pressure on the defense."
Desmond Jennings, the Rays' most prominent basestealer, agreed with his manager that the change should make a big difference.
"As a baserunner, you're going on the [pitcher's] first move," Jennings said. "With a runner on third you've had to wait and see if he was going to go to third or first, or whatever. Now you don't have to worry about it. You treat it like you're the only person on base."
Maddon believes that the threat of executing the play was part of the play's effectiveness.
"It was always there to be had, it just becomes a little more comfortable to do certain things, the stolen base in particular because the threat of the stolen base is gone," Maddon said. "I've had a lot of good baserunners, basestealers, that was very uncomfortable for them to get a good jump with a runner on third base. For all those sportscasters for years who said they've never seen that play work, they're totally wrong."
Jennings smiled when asked if the change could mean an extra 10 or 15 steals for him this season.
"I hope so," he said. "We'll see."
Scott exits early with tightness in hamstring
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Luke Scott left Sunday's game against the Twins after feeling tightness in his left hamstring.
"My hamstring just got a little tight," said Scott, who started the game at DH and left for a pinch-hitter in the fourth. "Just precautionary stuff, didn't want to mess with it."
Scott flew out to right field in the second inning in his only at-bat. He said he began to feel the tightness while running.
"I ran, came back to the dugout and it was just a little bit tight," Scott said. "Hopefully, I'll be back in a couple of days."
Scott, who missed 45 games in 2012 due to time on the disabled list, didn't think the tightness was anything serious.
"The muscle's just tight," Scott said. "I think cold day, a little bit of fatigue from working my legs, I worked my legs pretty hard this week. I've had stuff like this many times before. I'm not worried."
Escobar's play impresses Maddon early on
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Now that Joe Maddon has seen Yunel Escobar play some, he's even more pleased about having Escobar at shortstop this season.
Escobar hit an opposite-field home run against the Orioles on Saturday, but that is just one part of Escobar's skill set that has impressed Maddon.
"Good at-bats, he's showing his arm, showing all of his tools right now," Maddon said. "That's what I'm seeing. This guy is a complete baseball player. I don't think he's really been given credit for being all of that in the past. But he has all the necessary ingredients -- all five of them. And I think you're going to see them."
A lot of what the Rays had heard about Escobar prior to acquiring him during the Winter Meetings was negative. In particular, opinions formed after last season's incident when Escobar wrote an anti-gay slur on his eye black. That one resulted in a three-game suspension for the native of Havana, Cuba.
"Then we did our own research," Maddon said. "And there wasn't a whole lot of negative out there. The negative was what happened last year, and that's not going to happen here. But teammate-wise, it's all been positive. I've got nothing but good responses from teammates."
Escobar's strength has caught Maddon's eye.
"You can't appreciate [Escobar's strength] until you see it daily," Maddon said. "I didn't know he was that strong. The range and the foot speed are better than we had seen. And I thought that was there and now we're seeing that. I would say overall athleticism and strength level are greater than I thought."
Longoria in the lineup for back-to-back games
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Evan Longoria was in the lineup Sunday, which was the first time this spring he has played in back-to-back games.
"It was just a matter of setting it up," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, noting that Longoria will be off on Monday, will play Tuesday, then the team has an off-day on Wednesday. "Right now we're going to give him Wednesday and Thursday off and come back on Friday. It was just a matter of planning right now and he felt pretty good, so we decided to do it."
Longoria said he has felt fine during games and he has expressed to bench coach Davey Martinez that he could play a few more innings to get another at-bat or two. Longoria wants to gain confidence that he can push himself in the later innings when his legs are tired, but he believes that will come later in camp.
"I feel pretty good right now," Longoria said. "And I feel after another 40 at-bats, I'll be where I want to be."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.