ST. PETERSBURG - Sean Rodriguez has hit off a batting tee, hit soft toss from hitting coach Derek Shelton, showed up to the ballpark early and took batting practice while some of his teammates were still filing into the clubhouse.
He has worked on his positioning in the batter's box, his mindset, what pitch to look for and when to look for it.
Rodriguez has put in plenty of work behind the scenes during the past week or so to form good habits at the plate.
On Tuesday against the New York Yankees, it paid off.
Rodriguez had his first three-hit game of the season, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning that gave the Tampa Bay Rays a lead they would not surrender in what became a 7-4 victory in front of 26,453 fans at Tropicana Field.
It was the Rays' ninth straight victory against the Yankees at the Trop, and it moved them within 51/2 games of the American League East leaders. It also clinched the series victory against the Yankees, with the finale set for a 3:10 p.m. start today.
"I'm not the type to sit around when things aren't going well and assume it's going to come back," said Rodriguez, who had 17 hits in his previous 100 at-bats heading into the game. "I've been trying to tweak here, tweak there just trying to figure things out. We've made a lot of improvement, and hopefully we can make it a day-in, day-out thing and make it more consistent."
The Rays are hoping the rest of the offense is coming around, as well.
The Rays had 10 hits, including seven in six innings off Yankees starter Ivan Nova, who was 4-0 in six career starts against Tampa Bay.
Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton each had two hits, and Jeff Keppinger had a two-run single to cap a three-run third inning that tied the game at 3.
"We got some big hits," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's something that's been eluding us."
The Rays took advantage of a pair of errors by Yankees catcher Russell Martin, who dropped the ball in the third inning while applying a tag on Elliot Johnson, and threw the ball into center field in the seventh as the Rays added two insurance runs, the first of which scored when Jennings stole home on the front end of a double steal with Upton.
"(Baseball) does ebb and flow," Maddon said, "and flow owes us right now."
James Shields (8-5) allowed 10 hits and four runs in seven innings for his second win since May 13. He did put the Rays in a 3-0 hole and allowed the Yankees to take a 4-3 lead in the fourth after the Rays tied the score in the previous inning.
But, thanks the defense of Ben Zobrist, Rodriguez and Jose Molina, who combined to cut down Robinson Cano at the plate in the sixth inning when Cano tried to score from first on a double to Raul Ibanez (score it 9-4-3), Shields was able to protect the 5-4 lead.
Burke Badenhop got the Rays through the eighth inning, and Fernando Rodney worked a perfect night for his 24th save.
Rodriguez was the star of the game, though, picked by his teammates to light the Captain Morgan lamp in the clubhouse after the victory.
The last time he did that was May 27 in Boston when he helped the Rays beat the Red Sox with a ninth inning home run.
The weeks since then weren't kind to Rodriguez, who had one multi-hit game in his previous 28 before Tuesday.
Rodriguez said he has been working with Shelton since they both arrived in St. Petersburg before the 2010 season, so putting in extra work is nothing new. But the recent extra work has been aimed at certain areas of Rodriguez's swing.
"They say practice makes perfect. Well, it's really practice makes permanent," Rodriguez said. "It's understanding where I'm at and trying to repeat that. Whether the results are there or not, repeat that."
Tampa Bay Rays