ST. PETERSBURG — With utility man Sean Rodriguez struggling offensively, manager Joe Maddon said it was just a matter of him gaining confidence.
And Rodriguez, 24, said he picked up "loads of it" after getting two hits Sunday against the reigning Cy Young winner, Royals RHP Zack Greinke. Rodriguez had been 0-for-8 since April 21 and entered Sunday hitting .184.
"Someone asked me earlier, 'You're not swinging well. Then you face the reigning Cy Young Award winner and you look more comfortable than everybody, maybe except (Evan Longoria),' " Rodriguez said. "That basically says it all. If I can feel that comfortable off of him, I know I can do that against anybody."
Rodriguez, acquired from the Angels in last season's Scott Kazmir trade, earned a spot on the roster with his red-hot spring training, when he set club records in batting average (.460), runs (20) and hits (29). He appeared in 24 games and played every position except pitcher, catcher and first base.
But his playing time has been limited this season (13 games, including eight starts), especially with 2B Reid Brignac playing so well. And Rodriguez said it has been an adjustment to find the right routine and approach when he goes three or four days between games.
Maddon believes the coaches can help by "saying the right thing that might have him think the right thing that permits his confidence to build."
"I think he just needs to learn to relax to be successful here," Maddon said. "He's very talented. What you saw in spring training, of course that was a little over the top. But he's definitely more toward that end than what you're seeing right now. When this young man gains his confidence, he's going to be a really good major-league player."
CATCHING CARL: Though LF Carl Crawford has been caught stealing more frequently than usual, four times in his first 11 attempts (including three straight), Maddon said that has more to do with the opposing catchers.
"Those throws have been absolutely perfect," Maddon said. "If they're even chest high to the middle infielder, you're safe. These throws have been right on the bag, quick-release money throws."
The last time Crawford was caught three consecutive times was April 5-10, 2007, and he didn't get thrown out for the fourth time last season until June 20.
But Maddon said Crawford, a four-time American League stolen base champion, shouldn't change his approach.
"It's just one of those periods. It's like Kobe Bryant; keep on shooting, man," Maddon said. "You don't stop because you've been nonsuccessful a couple times. It'll balance out. He'll get back to his normal percentages."
LEANING LEFT: The Rays are scheduled to face six left-handers on this nine-game West Coast trip, including three in Seattle. Four of the seven Rays losses have come against left-handers.
"It doesn't surprise me, and it doesn't concern me, either," Maddon said. "I think we've actually been a little better against lefties the last couple times we've seen them."
Tampa Bay is hitting .241 against lefties. But beginning with the win over White Sox LHP Mark Buehrle on April 21, the team is batting .372.
Happy Shields: RHP James Shields, coming off an outing in which he tied his career high with 12 strikeouts and lasted seven innings, said he's pleased with where he's at and just wants to keep it up.
"I think as far as my mechanics, my delivery, my direction towards home plate, I think it's getting better and more consistent," he said. "If I can stay consistent and keep the team in the games like I've been doing, it's all good. We're going to win some ball games."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.