TORONTO -- Beginning Friday night, the Rays embark on a 10-game stretch on the road in which they will play the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Yankees.
While the Rays took a 14-2 run into the All-Star break, the next 10 games appear critical to the team's playoff hopes.
"Really can't worry about it too much," right-hander Jeremy Hellickson said. "These three games right here are going to be as tough as they get. Just have to go out and win this series first."
Ben Zobrist called the stretch "important."
"These are all division games," Zobrist said. "And we're playing the Red Sox four right in the middle of it. So, it's important. We're going to have to be ready to play. And hopefully we can pick up that team mojo where we left off Sunday."
Evan Longoria acknowledged the importance of the road trip, but would not concede that it's a make-it-or-break-it stretch.
"I don't know if that would be accurate in assuming that if we split on this road trip or don't come out with a winning record that that means we're not going to make the playoffs," Longoria said. "I mean, obviously, if we have a really good road trip after the break and continue on the same path that we were on before, in playing really good baseball and winning ballgames. Then you like your chances going forward. And you like your odds at making the playoffs.
"But I still think there's a little too much time to say that 10 games is the make-or-break point of the season. I know we're further along than the halfway point, but with a little more than 60 games remaining, I don't think 10 games -- unless you lose all 10, you don't put yourself in a good spot -- I don't know if this will be indicative of the rest of the year."
Escobar out of lineup, could return Saturday
TORONTO -- Yunel Escobar left Sunday's game against the Astros as a precautionary measure due to a mild right hamstring strain.
Though the injury is not considered serious, the Rays shortstop did not start Friday night against the Blue Jays.
"We talked yesterday," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He ran, he ran fine. But we thought it would be wise to not play him today."
Maddon said Escobar could be in the lineup Saturday, possibly as DH against Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle. He also said Escobar could be at shortstop Sunday and, at the very least, "should be there" by Monday.
"We'll see," Maddon said. "... He's available to play. It's one of those things where we consider him so valuable we don't want to push him right now. Later in the season, September, different circumstances, probably would have played."
Using Joel Peralta as a translator, Escobar said the problem is mostly due to tightness, which he feels "every move I make."
Neither Maddon nor Escobar believe Escobar is headed to the disabled list.
"Take it easy," said Escobar when asked about the next step. "They don't want me to rush and miss maybe a month or two. So, they want me to take it easy today. ... I would like to be back as soon as I can, but no time limit right now."
Cobb throws simulated game at Charlotte
TORONTO -- Right-hander Alex Cobb, still sidelined due to concussion-related symptoms, threw four innings in a simulated game for Class A Charlotte on Thursday.
"He threw 59 or 60 pitches yesterday, which is a good number, which means in his next gig, he'll probably go 75 or 80," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Not unlike what David [Price] did. A part of the thing is he's been out, but he hasn't been out a long period of time, so he hasn't lost the whole in-shape components of his arm, or body in general."
Cobb is scheduled to make his first official rehab start on Tuesday with Charlotte against Dunedin.
Maddon said he's "getting close," but added that if Tuesday goes well, he'll make at least one more start after that before returning to the team.
Longoria starts second half stuck in slump
TORONTO -- Evan Longoria has been around long enough to experience many highs and lows in his Major League career. Entering the second half of the season, the Rays third baseman was in the midst of one of the lows -- a .136 batting average in his last 18 games.
Longoria smiled when asked if the slumps ever get better after having the experience of riding out past slumps.
"It doesn't really matter," Longoria said. "We all kind of talk about it in here. I've felt better a couple of days, I've been on the verge of breaking out of it, and then I have a bad day again. And I'm like, 'Geez, I'm back in it again.'
"We all say that, like everybody slumps, but you don't remember what it's like to be slumping until you're slumping. It's [no fun]. You feel like you're never going to slump when you're going good. And then, when you're slumping, it's like, 'Geez, I don't feel like I've ever slumped in my life.' But you have to remember that it's a tough game and that you come around with belief and work and just keep going out there."
• James and Nadia Loney welcomed their first child, son Jordan James, who was born in Clearwater, Fla., on Friday. He weighed in at 8 pounds, 2 ounces. The Rays have placed Loney on the paternity list and recalled infielder Ryan Roberts to take his place on the roster.
• Yunel Escobar has played a career-high 52 consecutive errorless games at shortstop, tying the club record for a shortstop set by Chris Gomez in 2002. Escobar's last error was May 20 at Toronto.
• Right-hander Brandon Gomes (right lat strain) is scheduled to make his next rehab outing Saturday for Class A Charlotte.
• Fernando Rodney's next save will tie Danys Baez (71) for second place on the Rays' all-time list behind Roberto Hernandez.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.