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Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist heats up after meetings with friend, hitting coach

Ben Zobrist, being tagged out by shortstop Jose Reyes, has raised his average more than 30 points in less than two weeks.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Ben Zobrist, being tagged out by shortstop Jose Reyes, has raised his average more than 30 points in less than two weeks.

ST. PETERSBURG — When 2B/RF Ben Zobrist struggled the first few months of the season, manager Joe Maddon said one reason was that he was in "maybe mode" at the plate — a little too tentative.

There's no doubt Zobrist has looked, and felt, a lot better recently, entering Saturday with a career high-matching five consecutive multihit games. Zobrist said he's more comfortable, using his hands more in his swing and "seeing all the pitches well."

"He's more committed to the pitch," Maddon said. "He's hitting both fastballs and breaking balls, which is kind of nice to see. I think he's seeing the ball, but primarily, from a technical perspective, I think he's staying through the ball better."

Zobrist said he stayed up late one night during the Yankees series in New York from June 5-7, chatting with his longtime friend and former roommate, INF Drew Sutton, about various hitting aspects and "figured some things out." He then worked with hitting coach Derek Shelton, doing some early drills before the June 7 game. Since the Yankees series, Zobrist has raised his batting average from .199 to .230.

"Those two have been a big help to me," Zobrist said. "And since then, it's been really good."

ON TRACK: Though the results haven't reflected it, RHP Alex Cobb feels good about where he's at going into today's start against the Marlins.

Cobb has lost his past three outings but is encouraged with how he has thrown and how his mechanics have aligned. He allowed a career-high six runs against the Mets last week, with five scoring with two outs.

"I thought his last outing might have been the best I've ever seen him physically throw the ball," Maddon said. "He had a lot of strike-throwing with the fastball, good delivery, wasn't missing up and away to the lefties or righties. I was really pleased with that."

What has aggravated Cobb is that five of the 14 runs he has given up the past three starts have come in the seventh inning or later. He said it's a matter of better focus.

"I've got to bear down even more and really get that last out and finish strong," Cobb said. "It's easy to think you're doing it, but maybe you need to put a little more effort into really bearing down."

GO GOMES: Maddon said he thought RHP Brandon Gomes looked better and stronger when he was recalled from Triple-A Durham on Friday. And Maddon said he wasn't surprised to see Gomes strike out three of the four batters he faced in a scoreless ninth against the Marlins.

"What he did last September is indicative more of what he's capable of doing," Maddon said. "We've just got to get him out there. He keeps getting healthier and stronger, he's going to pitch well."

SAM I AM: OF Sam Fuld (right wrist surgery) has hit off a tee the past two days and felt good, saying he's pleasantly surprised with his progress and could start a rehab assignment in early July. Maddon said there's "no finish line" in terms of Fuld's return date.

MEDICAL MATTERS: 3B Evan Longoria (partially torn left hamstring) went 1-for-4 as DH for Durham on Saturday, his first game in a rehab assignment. "One game down, went well!" Longoria tweeted. "Feels good to be back on a baseball field!" INF Jeff Keppinger (broken right toe) was off Saturday due to general soreness after going 1-for-4 with an RBI groundout as DH Friday for the Bulls but is expected to play today.

FOR FIRST: DH/OF Hideki Matsui has been taking ground balls at first base, but Maddon said there are no days off planned for Carlos Peña. Maddon wants to prepare in case he has to make late-game pinch-hitting moves, especially heading into National League parks this week.

GOING FAST: There are about 1,500 tickets left for today's matinee against the Marlins.

Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist heats up after meetings with friend, hitting coach 06/16/12 [Last modified: Sunday, June 17, 2012 2:15am]

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