Evan Longoria returns, Matt Joyce sits for Rays

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The good news is that the Rays have Evan Longoria back tonight after the All-Star third baseman missed three games with strep throat.

The bad is that the team’s best hitter this year, Matt Joyce, is absent with what the Rays are calling “post-injection soreness” in his left shoulder.

Joyce received his second cortisone shot of the year due to lingering soreness in the shoulder and is dealing with pain around the injection area.  He’s expected to be available to pinch-hit tonight, and the Rays are optimistic that he’ll be back in the lineup on Saturday.

Joyce is second in the AL in batting average this year. Having falled into a bit of a slump, he’s recently tumbled from second to fourth in OPS, with Miguel Cabrera and David Ortiz now in the place and show positions behind Jose Bautista.  Joyce is hitting .338/.397/.590 with 10 homers and 34 RBI in 195 at-bats.

Since Joyce probably isn’t going to hit .340 all year, it’d help the Rays a lot if Longoria could step it up.  He’s hitting .252/.360/.435 with just 13 RBI in 115 at-bats.  He finished with an OPS in the .870-.890 range in each of his first three big-league seasons, but he’s at .795 right now.

Clayton Kershaw completes spring training with a 0.00 ERA

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Clayton Kershaw had nothing left to prove when he exited the mound during his last Cactus League start on Friday. He finished camp with a 0.00 ERA, made all the more impressive after he extended his scoreless streak to 21 1/3 innings following 6 2/3 frames of one-hit ball against the Royals.

In six spring training starts this year, the Dodgers southpaw racked up 12 hits, four walks and 23 strikeouts. His velocity appeared to fluctuate between the high-80s and low-90s from start to start, but manager Dave Roberts told reporters that he expects Kershaw to get back up to the 93 m.p.h. range next week. Kershaw is tabbed for his eighth consecutive Opening Day start on Thursday.

The 30-year-old lefty is poised to enter his 11th season with the club in 2018. He went 18-4 in 27 starts last year and turned in a 2.31 ERA, 1.5 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 over 175 innings. He suffered his fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, including a lower back strain that required a five-week stay on the disabled list.

The Dodgers will open their season against the Giants on Thursday, March 29 at 7:08 PM ET. Given the sudden rash of injuries that hit the Giants’ rotation earlier today, Kershaw’s Opening Day opponent has not yet been announced.