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Tampa Bay Rays considering using Ben Zobrist as leadoff hitter

CLEARWATER — C John Jaso might not be at the top of the Rays lineup after all.

Ben Zobrist batted leadoff Saturday for a third straight start, and the Rays are giving serious thought to using him there during the season, at least against right-handers.

Zobrist, a switch-hitter, has the most walks and the sixth-best on-base percentage (.374) in the AL over the past two seasons, and his average of 4.1 pitches per plate appearance last season was best among the Rays, though he hit only .238.

"I guess it makes sense if I get on base a lot," Zobrist said. "As far as comfortability, I would say I'm more comfortable now hitting a little bit lower in the lineup than I am presently batting leadoff. But in the past, I've done a lot of leadoff hitting. And I'm not going to let it change my approach, and that's the important thing."

Zobrist, who was 1-for-3 with a homer in Saturday's 6-2 win over the Phillies, started at leadoff in 26 games last season (hitting .219) and 33 times for his career.

PRICE CHECK: There were a few things LHP David Price wasn't happy about during his five-inning, 73-pitch outing, such as opening the second inning with consecutive walks, then allowing a one-out RBI single.

But he couldn't have been more pleased with how he threw his slider.

"That's the best my slider's been probably in two years, so that's pretty exciting," Price said. "I haven't mixed in my curveball yet, and I'm getting some pretty good swings on my slider for me, and that's huge for my confidence, to be able to put guys away late with something else than a fastball."

The improvement is the result, he said, of a slight change in grip suggested by his former Vanderbilt pitching coach, Derek Johnson. "I was still throwing the grip he showed me in college, and then he thought he found a better grip and he showed me that this offseason," Price said.

Opposing manager Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies have some pretty good starters, took notice of Price's impressive work: "See if we can't work Price in our rotation."

LEFT OUT: The Rays lost LHP Cesar Cabral on waivers to Toronto. Cabral was a Rule 5 pick from Boston, and it was unlikely the Rays would have been able to keep him on the big-league roster, as required.

GAME DETAILS: Johnny "Biceps" Damon and Dan Johnson hit homers that cleared the fan area beyond the rightfield fence and had to at least approach the shoulder of U.S. 19. "Both of them were well-done," manager Joe Maddon said. … Maddon said he was most pleased that the Rays (6-8-1) played "a clean game," with good defense (SS Reid Brignac) and pitching (citing relievers Juan Cruz, Cesar Ramos and Jake McGee). … Brignac's two hits raised his average to .533.

MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria left the game in the fourth inning but said he was fine and was scheduled for just two at-bats. … RHP James Shields will throw in a minor-league intrasquad game today rather than face division foe Toronto, and RHP Jeff Niemann will do so Monday when the rest of the team is off. … Look for Manny Ramirez in leftfield today with Damon as the DH. … RHP Jeremy Hellickson said he felt fine the day after making his spring debut.

Tampa Bay Rays considering using Ben Zobrist as leadoff hitter 03/12/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 13, 2011 2:25pm]

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