PORT CHARLOTTE — Pat Burrell reported for his second season with the Rays saying he was "pretty confident things will be a lot better."
The smart-aleck retort is that given how bad his debut performance was, they'd have to be.
But there are legit reasons — at least at the start of spring training — to think Burrell, at 33, can, and will, do better than the .221 average, 14 HRs, 64 RBIs and .315 on-base percentage he posted.
"I'm looking forward to a fresh start," he said.
Among the reasons:
• Better physical shape: He spent more time, with a longer offseason, working out, and he clearly looks more fit. He has already made adjustments to his swing with new hitting coach Derek Shelton (who visited him in Arizona for three days). He has addressed, through therapy and exercise, the issues with his neck that sidelined him last season, which he revealed Monday were "slight herniations" in two discs. "I had some problems with the swing as far as mechanically and stuff," Burrell said. "I was doing some things wrong, and to be honest with you, just couldn't get hot."
• Better frame of mind: He spent time during the offseason reflecting on what went wrong and what could be different going forward. Plus, he is more familiar with the team, the DH role, AL pitchers, etc. "I'm a lot more prepared this year as far as physically, and definitely mentally," he said. "It's not a new team anymore, and there's not all the adjustments that come along with it. I know what I need to do and how to go about it."
• Motivation from the past: Burrell is prideful, and doing so poorly and failing to help his new team hurt deeply. "It's frustrating, especially with everything going on with the team, as far as being new here, and a new role and everything," he said. "It was a frustrating year all the way around." Said manager Joe Maddon: "I'm sure his pride was injured a bit."
• Motivation for the future: Besides making up for last season, Burrell has to look ahead. With some free agent hitters lingering on the market (Jermaine Dye, Gary Sheffield are unsigned; Johnny Damon, Jonny Gomes just signed), Burrell, finishing his two-year, $16 million deal with the Rays, has to produce to get a contract for next season. "There is a business side to it, and if you want to capitalize on that, you do everything you can to prepare and put yourself in the best situation," he said. "I'm looking forward to that challenge."
Miscellany: Maddon said the Rays have "a little bit of this thing going around with some of the guys, a little bit of chest congestion." … Only three players didn't report early: 1B Carlos Peña, 2B Sean Rodriguez and 2B/RF Ben Zobrist. The first full-squad workout is Wednesday. … RHP Rafael Soriano, who was ill Friday, threw briefly off the mound for the first time. … INF Elliot Johnson reported for what could be his last camp with the Rays as he is out of options and unlikely to make the opening day roster.