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Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist day to day with back stiffness

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays centerfield depth took another hit Wednesday night as Ben Zobrist left the game with lower back stiffness and is day to day.

Manager Joe Maddon said though Zobrist won't start today, he doesn't anticipate him being out very long. Zobrist agreed, saying they were just being cautious.

"I don't think it's anything serious," Zobrist said. "It's just mild lower back pain, and it was just stuff after my second at-bat."

Sean Rodriguez replaced Zobrist in center to begin the fourth. The Rays are already without CF B.J. Upton (sprained left ankle), who is feeling better but might not return until Saturday or Sunday, Maddon said. Upton, who could be available to pinch-hit before that, plans to test the ankle this morning and hopes to play Friday against the Yankees.

"That's the goal," he said.

GOOD SIGN: 3B Evan Longoria was encouraged by his big night, going 3-for-4 with a two-run homer to snap an 0-for-19 skid.

"I had a good day at the plate. … My approach and everything was a whole lot better than it has been in the past week," Longoria said. "It feels good to finally feel a little bit more comfortable at the plate."

SMOOTH SECOND: Longoria received plenty of praise for how he started the difficult game-ending double play Tuesday night.

But what might have been lost was the impressive manner in which 2B Reid Brignac finished it, making the turn and throw to first with a hard-charging Johnny Damon coming right at him. It was another example of how far Brignac has come since starting to play second base in 2009 spring training.

"That's fearlessness," Maddon said. "There's a lot of guys who would cower at that play right there. There's a lot of second basemen who wouldn't hang in on that play as well as he did (Tuesday), then throw it as hard and as accurately as he did. … To be on the field at game speed and turn it like he did with as little experience as he's had, it was really a sensational play."

Maddon had concerns last season about Brignac playing second base. But Brignac worked hard to improve, saying he got more comfortable during spring training.

He had help in the offseason, working out with a friend, Cubs INF Ryan Theriot, at facilities in Baton Rouge, La. They'd take turns fielding ground balls from shortstop and second base as well as turning double plays, which Brignac said helped his footwork.

He said making the turn from second on a double play came easier to him than reading the ball off the bat from that spot.

"At the end of spring training, I felt real confident at second," he said. "I felt just as confident as I do at shortstop."

TRADE WINDS: Maddon said he met with executive VP Andrew Friedman on Wednesday and there was nothing new to report on the trade front. The Rays might be looking at the trade market differently with multiple reports that the Phillies are no longer looking to deal RF Jayson Werth as CF Shane Victorino went on the DL. Werth was considered one of the hitters the Rays were interested in, and the price, and competition, for the others, such as Washington's Josh Willingham and Baltimore's Luke Scott, might increase with Werth off the market.

QUOTABLE: "Having a closer like that makes you appear brighter than you actually are. He's really done that for all of us." — Maddon on the impact of closer Rafael Soriano, who picked up his career-high 28th save.

MISCELLANY: The Rays say fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for each of the three weekend games against the Yankees. … The Tigers were without manager Jim Leyland, suspended one game for "inappropriate and aggressive conduct" during Monday's game, when he sprayed umpire Marty Foster with sunflower seeds during an argument. Leyland said it was an accident. … The Tigers acquired 3B Jhonny Peralta from the Indians for minor-league LHP Giovanni Soto.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist day to day with back stiffness 07/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 29, 2010 8:42am]
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