Tampa Bay Rays
Rays' Zobrist rediscovering his comfort zone
ST. PETERSBURG - The doubles and home runs, the run-scoring hits in big moments. Do they look familiar? They should. Tampa Bay Rays second baseman/right fielder Ben Zobrist looks an awful lot like the super utility Ben Zobrist who enjoyed a breakout season in 2009 and earned a spot in that summer's All-Star game. "I think he's gotten back to that form," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.Zobrist was a hit-machine on the recent 10-game road trip, batting .429 with six doubles, three home runs, 13 RBIs and four walks. He had the Rays' lone hit and drove in both runs during Saturday's 3-2 to the Mariners. He had three hits and three RBIs in Sunday's 8-1 win against the Mariners. It was his fifth three-RBI game this season. He's had more than one hit in five of his past nine games. He leads the major leagues with 34 doubles and leads the American League with 53 extra-base hits. "It feels more like me as a hitter," Zobrist said. "I felt like early this season and a lot last year where I couldn't really get to that point where I feel comfortable like I have been in the last month or so." Zobrist hit .297 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs — all career-highs — in 2009. Last year, bothered by an offseason neck injury that disrupted his mechanics at the plate, Zobrist's production tailed off. He hit just .238 with 10 homers and 75 RBIs. "I know it bothered him a lot," Maddon said. "He'll never tell you how much. But the way his stance is, he's really got to turn (his neck) into it. He really wasn't comfortable." Now healthy, Zobrist is hitting. But it's more than just his ability to return to his old stance. Zobrist is also displaying more patience at the plate. He's stopped chasing pitches out of the strike zone and that willpower forces pitchers to give in to him. "It feels a lot better than it did earlier in the season," he said. "It still feels somewhat inconsistent from at-bat to at-bat, but that's just these pitchers are good. They're going to keep you off-balance and they're not going to throw the same thing to you, so you just have to make adjustments. I just feel like there are some certain things I've been able to stay consistent with as a hitter while still thinking along with the pitcher and making his adjustments." Zobrist brings a .282 average, 14 home runs and a team-high 61 RBIs into tonight's game with the Blue Jays that begins a 10-game homestand. His on-base percentage is up to .374 and his slugging percentage is .501. He also leads the team with 57 walks. What's more, Zobrist is equally effective from both sides of the plate. "He's gotten that balance back," Maddon said. And he's catching up to fastballs, something he struggled with in 2010, according to Maddon. Zobrist has an 11-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 18 of the past 21. His .875 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is tops among American League switch-hitters. "The biggest difference (between 2009 and 2011) is probably not the ball in the seats as often, but that may be the only difference. Otherwise pretty good at-bats. Really good at-bats," Maddon said. "I think he has been our most consistent offensive player, and he's gotten better as the season's been in progress."
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