Longo shortens swing, grows beard for spring

Longo shortens swing, grows beard for spring

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The face of the franchise has a different face this spring.

Evan Longoria reported to Rays camp looking more like Paul Bunyan with a full-blown beard, admitting he ditched his razor shortly after saying goodbye to the 2016 season.

"I started growing it in November," Longoria said. "My wife likes it. She told me if I cut it when I got here, she'd be upset."

Is it time to fear the beard, then?

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"I'll probably keep it [unless I do poorly]," said Longoria.

That shouldn't be a problem for Longoria. This past season, the Rays' veteran shook off (by his standards) one of his worst years in 2015 with quite a bounce-back in '16. He belted a career-high 36 homers and drove in 98 runs, his most RBIs in five years.

Longoria credits making adjustments at the plate, where he shortened up his swing, a change that carried over to his offseason routine.

"My swing has probably felt as good as it's ever felt coming into the spring," Longoria said. "The adjustments I made last year just really made it easier for me to set back to that spot."

Longoria enters his 10th season, admitting it usually would take him a month and a half to find his groove. But with his improved swing, he was confident enough to do "a lot" less hitting this offseason. His workout routine was highlighted by advice from friend and Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who shifted Longoria's workouts to "lots of Pilates with my wife."

The Rays' leading man may have newfound flexibility, but the past few months weren't all smiles. The normally low-key slugger surprised many by speaking up regarding his feelings on the team dealing veteran second baseman Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers for pitcher Jose De Leon.

"We were all a little upset about the loss of Logan. I was about as vocal as [on] any given topic or move that we've made," Longoria said. "I don't know that I'll ever get over losing Logan. We've become real close friends, and he had become one of the clubhouse leaders. You take that away, it feels like a much bigger void."

Rays manager Kevin Cash talked to Longoria two days after the deal was made. 

"[Longoria] was disappointed, spoke his peace, but he is smart enough and intelligent enough to know the impact that he has to come in and turn the page," said Cash.

Longoria still isn't happy about the deal, but he maintains that he likes the makeup of this Rays team, which went back to its roots this offseason by building around pitching and defense.

"We kind of steered away from that and tried to bring some power and bring some guys in we really hadn't done before. I think [the front office is] trying to slowly get back to that," said Longoria.

Meanwhile, Longoria hopes to get back to his 2016 form.

"That's the goal. The game is getting harder, and realistically, it's tough to repeat good years."

"I don't think it's fair that you can ever book a guy for those types of numbers," Cash said. "But if Longo can come up and just do what he's capable of, we have a special player, as the world of baseball knows."

A special player with a newfound special beard.

Mike Nabors is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.