Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist working to get comfortable at first base, just in case

PORT CHARLOTTE — First base isn't versatile Ben Zobrist's first choice for a position. But he reported to camp Saturday saying he is willing to make it his first priority this spring to get more comfortable in case he's used there.

"I definitely need that experience," Zobrist said. "At the end of the year when I played a little bit more first base, I felt a little bit uncomfortable because I didn't have that."

Zobrist, 29, will be plenty busy. The Rays plan to return him to more of a super-utility role, playing all over the field as opposed to primarily second base and rightfield as he did last season. And he hopes to recapture his 2009 team MVP batting form after dropping from .297 with 27 homers, 91 RBIs and a .948 OPS to .238/10/75/.699.

Manager Joe Maddon said he didn't know yet how much he'd use Zobrist at first, and that even though as a switch-hitter he seems the likely choice against left-handed pitchers, starter Dan Johnson also can hit lefties well.

"I do want him to be comfortable there, more than he was last year," Maddon said.

Zobrist is getting ready. After using Johnson and Willy Aybar's gloves for the 14 games he played at first in 2010, he ordered his own at the end of the season and is making sure it's broken in.

HELLICKSON UPDATE: RHP Jeremy Hellickson remained sidelined due to a mild right hamstring strain sustained Thursday, but Maddon said the reports from head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield are encouraging. "Ronnie said he came in better and he liked the way he was moving around," Maddon said.

Hellickson is expected to take the spot opened in the rotation by the Matt Garza trade, and Maddon said missing a short amount of time now shouldn't affect his readiness to start the season. Plus, with an off day in the first week, the Rays wouldn't need a fifth starter until April 10, so there would be some extra prep time if needed.

MAKING HIS CASE: Equally versatile INF/SS Elliot Johnson also reported, saying he considers this spring the opportunity to make the team he has been waiting for.

"This is it," he said.

Johnson, 26, is confident after hitting .319 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and 30 steals and playing solid shortstop during a breakout season at Triple-A Durham that got him put back on the 40-man roster after being dropped last spring.

"I don't know if you can find somebody that played shortstop in the minor leagues that is major-league ready that has the stats that I put up last year," he said. "I come in with a lot of confidence knowing that I proved the consistency question over the span of 450 at-bats."

Plus, he cut down on strikeouts, walked more and played good defense. "I feel like I did what was asked," he said. "Now I'm just hoping for an opportunity to prove that I can do the same thing at the big-league level."

MISCELLANY: Nonroster INFs Ray Olmedo and Daniel Mayora and just-signed Joe Inglett are the only position players who haven't reported in advance of Monday's first full-squad workout. … RHP Juan Cruz remains delayed by visa issues. … Maddon said he was impressed by SS prospect Tim Beckham's attitude and improved physique: "He just looks different."

Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist working to get comfortable at first base, just in case 02/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 7:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Cue the Scott Frost to Nebraska speculation


    Nebraska shook up the college sports world Thursday afternoon when it fired athletic director Shawn Eichorst.

    And that should scare UCF fans.

  2. USF defense feeds on Temple offense to take NCAA interceptions lead


    TAMPA — Backed up in his end zone, Temple quarterback Logan Marchi scrambled, trying to elude a USF defensive end coming straight for him. Until then, Marchi hadn't had much luck hitting his receivers.

    South Florida Bulls safety Devin Abraham (20) sacks Temple Owls quarterback Logan Marchi (12) during the first half at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 21, 2017.
  3. No. 21 USF Bulls roll over Temple to stay undefeated


    TAMPA — They emerged from Raymond James Stadium's southwest tunnel on the 11-month anniversary of their public humiliation at Temple.

    Bulls tailback Darius Tice, who rushes for 117 yards, is elated by his 47-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
  4. Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person



    No. 21 USF ran its record to 4-0 Thursday night with some payback against Temple, a 43-7 trouncing, no contest, as if anyone cares, at least judging by the paltry crowd at Raymond James Stadium. Where was everybody?

    Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) celebrates with teammates after making a defensive play during the first half.
  5. Former Ray Tim Beckham's over being traded, or is he?

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — As the Rays reunited Thursday with Tim Beckham for the first time since he was dealt July 31 to Baltimore, it became very clear that not everything in assessing the trade is as it appears.

    Tim Beckham, here in action Monday against the Red Sox, has hit .310, with 10 homers and 26 RBIs since going to the Orioles.