Tampa Bay Rays
Rays may go with platoon at shortstop
PORT CHARLOTTE - Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said Monday he is not ready to announce the results of the spring-long competition at shortstop because a decision has not been reached. Maddon said both Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac have shown improvements in the needed areas – Rodriguez in the field and Brignac at the plate. While Maddon stated before the start of camp that he was hoping one would win the job outright, he did mention Monday the possibility of a platoon between the two. "If you keep them both here than there's the potential for platooning," he said.Keep them both? Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is still looking outside the organization for outfield help. The Rays have 13 position players in camp, the number they will take into the season. Should they add an outfielder, one has to go. Elliot Johnson, who can give the Rays depth in the outfield, is out of options. Since Brignac has options, he could be the one headed to Triple-A Durham. The Rays have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to set the Opening Day roster, and Maddon said the decision might come down to the final hour. Despite the plantar fasciitis that interrupted his spring, Brignac has performed well, especially at the plate, where he has improved the quality of his at-bats by working on his pitch selection. He's also dropped down a few bunts, proving he can add that to his game. "We said coming in that we were not going to evaluate him on the numbers, we were going to evaluate him on the quality of at-bats and what he's done within the at-bats, and we've been pleased in that regard," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. Brignac, who is batting .286, has made major changes to his batting stance. He has moved his feet closer together, which forces him to stand taller in the batter's box. "I'm a tall dude, so there's no point to be spread out and try to slap balls around," Brignac said. "I want to stand tall and use my length and athleticism like I used to do." That was how Brignac hit during the early part of his minor league career, when he hit above .300, something Shelton noticed while watching film in the offseason. "I feel extremely better,'' Brignac said. "The balls are coming off my bat now. I'm hitting balls, I'm driving balls. I didn't do that at all last year. It's definitely a better approach, a better swing than last year." Brignac has also become more disciplined in his pitch-selection, laying off the pitches out of the strike zone. He said he's had more quality at-bats than give-away at-bats. "It's how he controls it, the pitches he swings at and the pitchers we don't swing at," Shelton said. "It's something we challenged him with, it's spring training, but all indications are he's trending the right way. This is where the good habits start." Maddon said he didn't expect one to pull away from the other during the competition, that Rodriguez and Brignac are nearly evenly matched. "It's always going to be a close call and it's going to go beyond what the average fan may see in a game," Maddon said. "It's tough, man. It's a great problem to have. Several years ago we would have loved to have these kinds of problems." When asked Monday if he felt he has done everything he was asked this spring, Brignac said, "My opinion doesn't really matter. It doesn't matter how I think I did. What matters is how they think I did."