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Slumping Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist puts in extra work

Ben Zobrist scores on B.J. Upton’s sac fly in the third against the Yankees, but he finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.

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Ben Zobrist scores on B.J. Upton’s sac fly in the third against the Yankees, but he finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.

NEW YORK — With his average hovering around .200, Rays RF/2B Ben Zobrist searched for answers while doing drills with hitting coach Derek Shelton on Thursday afternoon.

Zobrist tried to use his hands more in his swing.

"My body is just getting in the way," he said before the game against the Yankees.

Zobrist singled in a run in the third and walked in the ninth but also hit a comebacker and struck out twice during the Rays' 7-3 win.

Zobrist has had almost a seasonlong struggle to find a comfort zone. Manager Joe Maddon has pointed out that Zobrist, typically a disciplined hitter, has been chasing pitches out of the strike zone, resulting in just nine hits over his past 63 at-bats after Thursday.

But Zobrist said expanding his zone is a result of not being in the right place with his swing.

"You have to think about it," he said. "You have to figure out what it is about your swing that doesn't feel right. Because if you don't feel right in the box, then it's going to be hard regardless of what pitch is thrown. You have to know that your swing is going to do what you want it to do."

Maddon has remained positive with Zobrist, believing the 2009 All-Star — who has hit 20-plus homers in two of the past three seasons — will get back on track. He used Zobrist as the designated hitter Thursday in the hitter-friendly No. 2 spot.

"It happens to everybody at some point. It's happening to him now,' Maddon said of the struggles. "And I'm certain he'll work through it."

GREAT SCOTT: DH Luke Scott didn't start for the second straight game, this time due to a left-hander, CC Sabathia, starting for the Yankees.

The real question is how much Scott will play this weekend in Miami, an interleague series with no DH. Maddon said though Scott is able to play first base if needed, he likely will be used mostly as a pinch-hitter.

With Scott hitting .186 over his past 12 games, Maddon said the weekend could be a good mental break for him: "I just think not grinding so hard should probably help him. This guy cares about as much as anybody does, and he works so hard. So it might be the opportune time to give him a little bit of a break."

PITCHING IN: RHP Jeremy Hellickson said he is a little nervous to be the first Rays pitcher to hit tonight as they begin a string of 15 interleague games (nine on the road).

But Hellickson is feeling good on the mound, where he has been consistent and in his last outing found his curveball.

"It was probably the best curveball I've had since last year," said Hellickson, who took a loss despite allowing two runs (one earned) and striking out eight over 62/3 innings against the Orioles on Saturday.

"I felt a lot more consistent with it and had a lot of confidence in it from the bullpen," he said. "I just felt good throwing it even with two strikes, and I haven't felt that way in a while."

TOUGH TASK: The Rays saw the new-look Marlins a few times during spring training. The group — which includes SS Jose Reyes, LHP Mark Buehrle and RHP Heath Bell sits two games back of first place in the National League East.

"They're very good," Maddon said. "Their pitching is really good. They've got some powerful offensive weapons. Reyes creates another dimension for them. But we like playing good teams."

MISCELLANY: RHP Kyle Farnsworth (right elbow strain) threw to hitters Wednesday at Tropicana Field and everything went well, Maddon said. There is no date for a rehabilitation assignment. … Three players from Double-A Montgomery — RHP Shane Dyer, utility player Omar Luna and DH Kyeong Kang — made the Southern League South Division All-Star team.

Slumping Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist puts in extra work 06/08/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 8, 2012 12:41am]

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