ANAHEIM, Calif. — There are numerous ways the Rays will miss Ben Zobrist while he spends the next 2-3 weeks on the disabled list while his dislocated left thumb heals.
His defense at second base and in the outfield, contributions from both sides of the plate in terms of on-base percentage and key hits, savvy on the bases and the flexibility he affords manager Joe Maddon to make in-game moves.
Also his presence.
"He's really part of our heartbeat," Maddon said. "He's the guy that puts you back in a normal rhythm a lot of times."
The Rays and Zobrist hope he can return at the end of the month but acknowledge it might take into June.
Making sure the thumb is fully healed when he comes back was a big part of the Rays' decision to put Zobrist on the disabled list with infielder Cole Figueroa called up for what will be his major-league debut.
"That's probably the safer approach than trying to push it and maybe have an unstable joint and trying to come back earlier," Zobrist said. "It's probably a smart decision."
Typical absences for this type of injury range from 1-3 weeks, and Maddon said head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield was leaning toward the back end.
"Ronnie really believes it shouldn't be too long after a normal (15-day) DL stint; maybe a two-three weeks kind of a thing could be something that's reasonable," Maddon said. "We'll know more over the next couple days."
In Zobrist's absence, the Rays will fill second base by committee with Maddon working out a job share among Sean Rodriguez, who got the start Thursday, Logan Forsythe and Figueroa, the lone left-handed hitter of the group.
"Everybody is going to be involved," he said.
Zobrist's injury is the latest in what has been a rough start to the season with three starting pitchers — Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore — already on the disabled list.
"It's no fun," Maddon said. "But we've had to go through this moment before. In some of our best years, we've had to go through adversity with injury."
Zobrist — hitting .260 with three homers, nine RBIs and a .352 on-base percentage — was injured Wednesday trying to avoid a tag on a head-first slide into second. He said he doesn't plan to abandon sliding head-first but will stop trying to get around the fielder because that was also how he broke the same thumb in spring training 2008.
"It's not a matter of sliding head first, but of trying to do something crazy when you're sliding head first," he said.
Zobrist did say he expects to start wearing a protective device when he is on the bases — probably similar to the "oven mitt" that Desmond Jennings wears to protect his fingers.
When he was hurt Wednesday, Zobrist feared the worst; that his thumb — pointing at about a 65-degree angle — was fractured and he'd miss months. So he was relieved with the current prognosis.
"It's just one of those things. It's going to happen at some point in your career, and fortunately, I haven't had many things I've had to go on the DL for," he said. "So yes, it's disappointing. But at the same time, it'll let everything heal up a little bit so when I come back, hopefully, I'll be more fresh and ready to help the team out."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.