After day off, Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist snaps out of his slump

TORONTO — INF Ben Zobrist said his day off Monday helped him a lot in terms of clearing his mind, and the results have shown it.

Zobrist, who is having a career season, had been in a 6-for-39 stretch heading into Monday's game against the Blue Jays, with manager Joe Maddon saying Zobrist's biggest problem was expanding his strike zone too much.

Maddon gave him a day to step back and re-evaluate. Zobrist said he "got to relax a little bit and get my approach back, and not focus as much on the results."

Zobrist responded Tuesday with a hit and two walks. He had two more hits Wednesday, including a double, and two more walks.

"The biggest thing, I love the walks," Maddon said. "More often than not, when hitters go through bad moments, it's not because their swing is all messed up mechanically, it's probably because they're swinging at bad pitches. … When you see guys walking like (Zobrist) did, that's what I was looking for."

PLAYING THROUGH: 3B Evan Longoria said his sore left hamstring is feeling better. Now it's just a matter of feeling better at the plate.

Longoria, who missed six starts in early June and one last week due to the hamstring, downplayed the nagging injury, saying it's "something that everybody plays through."

And the All-Star will continue to work through his recent offensive scuffles. Lon­goria went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Wednesday and is in a 1-for-16 skid that has dropped his average to .297.

"I feel fine. There's no excuse for that," Longoria said. "It is what it is. It's something that everybody plays through. You're not always going to feel 100 percent this time of the year anyway. Physically, I feel fine; I feel like I can go out there and play. I'm not playing very well right now. … I'm going to keep going out there every day, and keep working."

Maddon held Longoria out of the starting lineup Tuesday and plans to rest him on occasion until the hamstring is 100 percent.

SAY HEY, WILLY: That Maddon plugged INF Willy Aybar into the third spot in the order Tuesday, though it was just his fourth start since June 11, says a lot not only about how the Rays feel about him but his ability to stay ready. Aybar went 3-for-5 with a homer. He pinch-hit Wednesday and hit a line drive to SS Marco Scutaro, which resulted in a double play.

Aybar has reached safely in 29 of his past 31 starts.

"I think some guys are better than others," Maddon said about Aybar hitting well despite long layoffs between starts. "Some guys can never do that. Willy knows his lot in the professional sense with us, so he knows he has to stay ready and knows how to stay ready. We interact with him daily, he knows how strongly we feel about him, and that helps also."

MINOR MATTERS: LHP Jake McGee made his second start since coming back from Tommy John surgery, striking out five of the six batters he faced Tuesday for the Gulf Coast Rays. … OF Matt Joyce homered Tuesday for the third straight game, stoled his ninth base and scored three runs.

MISCELLANY: LF Carl Crawford extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a seventh-inning single. … The three home runs RHP James Shields gave up tied a career high. … Blue Jays 3B Scott Rolen extended his career-high hitting streak to 19 games.

After day off, Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist snaps out of his slump 07/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 2, 2009 7:48am]

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