Tampa Bay Rays
Rays notebook: Early success pleases Zobrist
ST. PETERSBURG -
Ben Zobrist says he can get used to this protection racket.
With slugger Evan Longoria hitting behind him, Zobrist has capitalized from the No. 3 hole as he entered Saturday night's matchup against Cleveland with a .467 batting average and seven RBIs, placing him among the league leaders through four games.
And for a notoriously slow starter, Zobrist is appreciative of his early success.
“Even through the minor leagues, April and May haven't been my strongest months,” said Zobrist, who also boasted an .800 slugging percentage through his first 15 at-bats. “Normally, at the start of the season, there's too much adrenaline. But Longo's hitting cleanup behind me and I've gotten good pitches to hit.”
Zobrist, a career .238 hitter in March and April, has been one of Tampa Bay's primary offensive weapons for several years and his confidence level keeps soaring.
“It comes with maturity,” said the versatile switch-hitter, who played second base Saturday. “If you believe you're supposed to be here and that you're a good player, you don't freak out when you go through the low points of a season. And every player in this league is going to go through some adversity. You just have to keep working the process, keep your focus and make adjustments.”
Zobrist lined two doubles against the Indians on Friday and he has led all major-league switch-hitters in doubles and extra-base hits in each of the past two seasons. The last player to accomplish that feat? Pete Rose for the Big Red Machine in 1975-76.
“Everybody talks about the physical grind of playing 162 games, but more than that, it's a mental grind,” Zobrist said. “You make an adjustment, the pitcher makes his adjustment and so on. The more you play this game, the more you realize you have to forget about tomorrow and yesterday. Stay in the present and figure out what you need to do today to succeed.”
Niemann update † RHP Jeff Niemann will have his injured right shoulder examined Monday in Texas when the Rays hit the road to face the Rangers. Niemann is on the 15-day disabled list with a sore shoulder, prompting the Rays to recall Brandon Gomes from Triple-A Durham.
“I'm going to get re-evaluated,” Niemann said Saturday. “We'll see where we're at on Monday and go from there.”
On the road again † After facing the Indians this afternoon, the Rays will play 20 of their next 26 games away from Tropicana Field.
Manager Joe Maddon says he's not worried about facing life on the road, although he remembers a time when his concerns were painfully real.
“I didn't realize it was so severe,” Maddon said of Tampa Bay's upcoming stretch. “But I looked at the weather reports and it's not going to be awful. I'm not overly concerned. But I can recall that in 2006, we had three wins on the road in the second half of the season. I remember going into Anaheim and telling someone, 'This is absurd, how does this happen?' But it did.”
Fancy glovework † After a disappointing 2012 season with the glove, the Rays have displayed stellar defense in the early stages.
Tampa Bay handled its first 158 chances without a miscue this year, a sharp contrast to the shoddy defense that marked the first half of the 2012 season.
“It's been beautiful,” Maddon said. “You're making the spectacular plays, but while you're doing that, you're making the plays you should make. When you only permit the number of outs a team is supposed to get, it makes a huge difference.”
The Rays made 114 errors last year, their most since 2007 and a 56 percent jump from 2011.
“So far, our defense has been what we thought it would look like,” Maddon said. “Last year, it was awkward to watch because we're not used to that. It was difficult, but we finally got it right after the All-Star break.”