ST. PETERSBURG — Sean Rodriguez's big night came on the big stage, with his season-high three hits Tuesday — including a go-ahead two-run homer — lifting the Rays to a 7-4 win over the Yankees.
But Rodriguez's breakout game was sparked on three days last weekend he didn't get an at-bat, instead grinding through extra afternoon batting practice sessions when the stands were empty.
The struggling Rodriguez would take 45-50 extra swings on the field with hitting coach Derek Shelton throwing, not to mention the sessions of soft toss and hitting off a tee.
"It was probably two, three times (the work)," Rodriguez said. "It was constant."
The point was simple: take the pressure of playing off and focus on getting more consistent at the plate, both in his positioning in the box and in his pitch selection.
It was "subtle stuff," as manager Joe Maddon called it, but they felt by doing so he'd be able to drive his pitch more and cover the strike zone.
It paid off as Rodriguez homered — and lit the Captain Morgan lamp as player of the game — for the first time since May 27 at Boston. He came a triple away from the cycle.
Rodriguez had entered Tuesday with 17 hits in his previous 100 at-bats, dropping his average to .211.
"I'm not the type to sit around when things aren't going good and just assume that it's going to come back," he said. "I've been trying to tweak here and there, trying to figure things out. And we've made a lot of improvements and hopefully it's something we can make a consistent day-in, day-out thing so it becomes more consistent production."
Rodriguez first saw the results Monday, when his pinch-hit walk in the seventh sparked a rally in a 4-3 win. "That propelled us to the win," Shelton said.
On Tuesday, Rodriguez's three hits stole the show. Said Maddon: "I'm sure it's going to really bolster his confidence."