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Time for MLB to hitch its wagon to Longoria

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As much as St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols likes to proclaim himself to be the clean one, letting anyone who will listen know that it is OK to trust him, people are going to be skeptical.

That's just the way it's going to be. Previously, the Major League Baseball world thought Alex Rodriguez was going to be the one who reclaimed the home run title "the clean way" from Barry Bonds, and that did not exactly go as planned.

Bottom line is that nobody who played before 2005 is beyond suspicion. It's a tough stance to take and you can call me cynical, but I am in the "you are guilty until proven innocent" boat in these cases. And even then, I won't be sure. That goes for everyone, not just Pujols. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Ryan Howard, whoever. They are all guilty as far as I am concerned.

Plus, there was already some smoke surrounding Pujols, and being from a family of New York City firemen, I know that when there is smoke there is usually some fire. His trainer, Chris Mihlfield, also trained known steroid and HGH abuser Jason Grimsley. Of course, that in no way implicates Pujols (or Mihlfield for that matter), but like I said, when there is smoke there is usually fire.

Anyway, this isn't a piece condemning Pujols, who very well could be clean. I just don't think MLB is going to put its eggs in his basket without being completely sure. Baseball and its fans have been burned way too many times.

Instead, they should focus on the guy who has a chance to be the face of the league for at least the next decade - Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria.

Before Longoria was taken third overall in the 2006 draft, the big joke he had to put up with was that he was not related to actress Eva Longoria. Well, his name does not inspire chuckling anymore, mainly because Evan has blossomed into the best all-around player in the American League, while Eva has faded into relative obscurity. In fact, Evan is the only Longoria worth caring about these days.

Longoria has shown no signs of a sophomore jinx after his tremendous Rookie of the Year campaign in 2008, as he headed into action on Wednesday batting a robust .362 with 11 home runs and a league-high 45 RBI, while fielding the position better than anyone else in the game.

Plus, after signing a contract extension before last season that could keep him with the Rays through 2016, there is no worry of Longoria bolting St. Petersburg anytime soon. Good news for a Rays team that is desperately trying to build a new stadium, while trying to build upon their American League championship from a year ago.

Longoria's progression had optimism running high for the Rays, as most people thought the team would follow up their breakout season in similar fashion to the way Longoria has. However, things haven't exactly panned out yet in St. Pete, as the Rays find themselves four games below .500 and 7 1/2 games behind the upstart Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the AL East as I write this.

Whether his team is winning or not at the moment, Longoria is the new hotness, as the kids would say. Plus testing has been a part of baseball ever since he joined the league, meaning he should be about as clean as you're going to find.

Like I said earlier, though, there probably is no way to ever know who was or is clean, and who wasn't. Even today, some of these players have chemistry departments working for them, keeping them one step ahead of testing. If I was a betting man, though, I would put my money on Longoria being clean.

Then again, I have burned in the past.

THE KIDS ARE CALLING IT THE STREAK

No I am not talking about the first-ever streaker at Citi Field on Tuesday evening, I am, of course talking about the remarkable hitting streak by Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

With his first inning single on Tuesday, Zimmerman matched George Brett's 30-game streak in 1980 for the longest by a third baseman since Pete Rose's 44-game streak in 1978, although Rose played two games in left field during his famed streak.

Vladimir Guerrero holds the club mark of hitting safely in 31 straight games, having done so from July 27-August 26, 1999, when the team was still located in Montreal.

Zimmerman is batting .385 (50-for-130) with eight home runs and 30 RBI during his tear, and has been especially torrid in May. Through the first 11 games of this month, the 24-year-old has amassed a sensational .500 (25-for-50) average at the plate.

Zimmerman's run, already the longest in Nationals history, is the fourth- longest in the majors since 2000, matching 30-game streaks by Moises Alou (2007), Willy Taveras (2006) and Albert Pujols (2003).

The 30-gamer is also tied for the third-longest in Washington baseball history. Sam Rice had a 30-game streak from 1929-30 and a 31-gamer in 1924. Heinie Manush owns the longest DC hitting streak at 33, in 1933. HINCH'S HIRING IN ARIZONA A CURIOUS ONE We had our first big league manager late last week, as Arizona relieved Bob Melvin of his duties, replacing him with former major league catcher A.J. Hinch, the right-hand man of general manager Josh Byrnes. Hinch has never managed or coached at any level of professional baseball.

Huh?

I am sure Hinch will do a fine job. Former catchers usually make good skippers, as evidenced by the fact that there are 12 big league managers who were former backstops (Melvin was an ex-catcher too), but wouldn't you want someone who has, I don't know, a little experience?

Byrnes said he was impressed with Hinch's leadership skills, and how he handled himself while sitting in on minor league player development meetings.

The Diamondbacks are not the Pittsburgh Pirates, but they have a shot at making the playoffs, especially with Manny Ramirez serving a 50-game suspension. The move just didn't make much sense to me.

It seems that Byrnes wanted a puppet, and he got one.

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Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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