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Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist likely to miss at least one more game with minor neck injury

ST. PETERSBURG — Ben Zobrist wasn't in the lineup Saturday and could be out again today due to a nagging neck injury, but it isn't considered serious.

Zobrist said his neck stiffened up the past few days, likely due to overswinging, leading to him getting pinch-hit for in the ninth inning of Friday's 3-2 loss to Baltimore. He felt he needed just one day off and was available as a pinch-hitter, but manager Joe Maddon said they might hold him out today, too.

"I'm fine," Zobrist said. "I just kind of needed a day off anyway, I think."

Zobrist, one of the team's top hitters, said he first noticed it after he swung and "felt it grab a little bit."

"I'm just overswinging probably and that's kind of been common with me," he said. "If I do a little bit too much, that's probably what happens. Just take a day off and go from there."

A neck issue hampered Zobrist last season, but he said this one is not as bad.

"No major concerns," Maddon said. "It bothers him with his swing, something that's reminiscent from last year, although not nearly as impactful as it was last year."

NOT DONE YET: The Rays have been careful in monitoring and managing the innings of rookie RHP Jeremy Hellickson.

But Maddon said they want to also make sure to stretch Hellickson out so that he can handle a bigger jump in his workload next year. Hellickson, who has logged 155⅓ innings, is expecting to be done after making the 20 percent jump from last year's 154, which likely will be around 180 innings.

Hellickson said he feels "night and day" better than he did at this point last season.

"The more innings I throw this year, the easier it'll be next year," he said. "I feel great right now, arm feels good, body feels good. … Actually, my fastball felt as good as it has all year last game. When your fastball feels like it did last game, you're more confident in everything."

JUST LIKE JONNY: INF Sean Rodriguez got hit by his 14th pitch in the first inning Friday night, tying Jonny Gomes (2005) for the single-season club record. And Maddon said there are some similarities between the players.

"The biggest thing is, there are certain guys who are not afraid to get hit by the ball, and they're definitely willing to take a base or get on base," Maddon said. "And Jonny was like that, Sean is like that. … There are certain guys, they're not going to give in, getting hit by the pitch there is not such a bad idea. There's pitches I'm sure (Rodriguez) could have gotten away from that he chose not to."

With Rodriguez and Gomes, Maddon says, "They like to play the game hard, they got a little bit of football mentality with the way they play."

IN CLOSING: RHP Kyle Farns­worth earned his 50th career save Saturday night, appearing in a save situation for the first time since Aug. 19.

Twenty-three of those have come with the Rays this season, and Maddon said the veteran has exceeded expectations.

"I think he's been pretty darn impressive," Maddon said. "I really love having him around. … If you take care of him, you can get 30-plus saves out of him, you can get probably 60 innings out of him if you do everything right with him."

Maddon said the confidence Farnsworth has built through the year could serve him well moving into next season. The team holds a $3.3 million option for next season (or a $650,000 buyout).

"What he's done in the past and what he's doing right now are two totally different things," Maddon said. "I had never really seen it, and maybe the industry has not. He's not been this level of consistent to the industry, either."

MISCELLANY: Rodriguez and C Kelly Shoppach will sign autographs along the rightfield wall from noon-12:30 today. … OF Matt Joyce has five RBIs in his past seven games.

Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist likely to miss at least one more game with minor neck injury 09/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 3, 2011 11:24pm]
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