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Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist rediscovering power stroke

Ben Zobrist leads the Rays with five home runs and 11 extra-base hits.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Ben Zobrist leads the Rays with five home runs and 11 extra-base hits.

TORONTO — Manager Joe Maddon said RF/2B Ben Zobrist isn't yet back to his 2009 All-Star form, when he hit 27 home runs, but he's clearly headed there after a disappointing 2010 season in which he hit only 10.

Zobrist's two-run homer Sunday, following his three-run blast Saturday, was his team-high fifth in the first 22 games of this season. He leads the team with 11 extra-base hits though has just a .203 average.

"He's not quite at '09, but he's better than '10 in some ways. When he's seeing his fastball, he's not missing it pretty much. And I still think there's room for improvement there," Maddon said.

"His batting average is going to climb. He's going to start missing some people on defense. But the power numbers have been good. Look at his extra-base hits based on what he's doing average-wise, he's come through in some pretty big moments for us also, so I'll take that."

Zobrist, who tends to tinker extensively with his stance and swing, said the key has been keeping things simple.

"I'm just trying to have good at-bats," he said. "My swing feels great right now, which I think is a big kind of confidence lift for me. And finally I feel like when I get a pitch I can handle I can put a good swing on it and the ball jumps off the bat a little bit without a ton of effort. That's kind of the key, being able to be comfortable in there and when you let it go it happens the way you would like it to happen."

Zobrist said the power swing feels like it did in '09, and Maddon said he was encouraged that Zobrist homered right-handed Sunday, since his first four were left-handed.

NOT-SO-SUPER SAM: Blue Jays LHP Ricky Romero is from Los Angeles, but it might as well have been planet Krypton as Super Sam Fuld struck out his first three times up then a fourth against reliever Marc Rzepczynski.

It was Fuld's first four-strikeout effort in 737 pro games (619 minors, 118 majors). He had seven three-strikeout games in the minors, one in the majors.

Today's off day would appear to come at a good time. "The last 2-3 weeks have been physically demanding," said Fuld, who is still hitting a team-best .346. "It's my first time playing on a regular basis on a turf field, so that's been an adjustment. I'm pretty banged up, nothing major, but just little nicks and scrapes. So, yeah, it'll be nice."

LONGO UPDATE: 3B Evan Longoria didn't really hug hitting coach Derek Shelton, but he was extremely excited to get to swing against actual pitched balls in the batting cage. "It was emotional," Longoria said.

The 20 or so swings were his first since straining his left oblique April 2 and, he said, "A huge step forward. … It went as good as it could go, no pain."

Longoria will travel with the Rays to Minnesota, with plans to participate in full batting practice on the field, then head to Double-A Montgomery on a rehab assignment. He is hoping for just two to three games and maybe 10 at-bats at Double-A Montgomery; Maddon is talking about five to seven and 20, with time off in between.

Either way, Longoria is planning to return during the Friday-May 5 homestand.

MISCELLANY: 1B Dan Johnson had a large red welt on his forehead after the game, the result, the best he and the training staff could figure, of some type of bug bite. … DH Johnny Damon extended his hitting streak to 13 games. … RHP Kyle Farnsworth said his left knee, which acted up Saturday, felt fine. … LHP J.P. Howell (shoulder surgery) makes his second rehab appearance today with the extended spring team in Fort Myers.

Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist rediscovering power stroke 04/24/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 24, 2011 9:23pm]
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