ST. PETERSBURG — Gabe Kapler's offensive struggles were a reason manager Joe Maddon elected to pinch-hit switch-hitting Ben Zobrist Friday night against a left-handed reliever, which resulted in a grand slam and a victory.
But it was also a key factor in Maddon putting Kapler, who bats right, in the starting lineup Saturday, to try to "get him going."
And though the rightfielder went 0-for-4 and is now 2-for-20 this season, Maddon saw some progress in his at-bats. Kapler's last swing, in the eighth inning, looked like a homer until it was caught at the leftfield wall.
"He hit some balls really well," Maddon said. "I thought he had better at-bats tonight and started to square the ball a little bit better. So I thought there was some progress."
Kapler said he sees it as a process and feels "confident that I do the best job that I can possibly do with my mental work and my work I do in the cage." Maddon said Kapler, acquired as a free agent in the offseason, needs repetition, and that's why he got into the lineup against the left-hander Mark Buehrle. Kapler hit .354 against lefties last season.
Kapler has continued to play well defensively, adding a great running catch Saturday to an outfield assist Thursday. He said the fact that he doesn't play every day, platooning in rightfield, has nothing to do with him not yet finding a groove at the plate.
"I've done that before; I've done it well before," Kapler said of the role. "And I'll do it well again."
JUST A START: 3B Evan Longoria received his BBWAA American League rookie of the year award, saying it's a "great honor," especially considering the other names on the list of award winners.
"It's one of those things that it gives me a lot of motivation for this year, and years to come," Longoria, 23, said. "Some of the things we were able to do and I was able to do might never happen again."
Longoria extended his hitting streak to a career-high 10 games.
LOCKED IN: 1B Carlos Peña said the key to his strong start at the plate, with an 11-game hitting streak and five homers and 13 RBIs in his past seven games, has been keeping things simple, focusing on seeing the ball well and trusting his hands.
"He's doing it just right," Maddon said. "He's getting his foot down in time. … He's seeing the ball well, he's not jumpy, not trying to do too much. He's using the whole field. He has a great approach going right now."
Izzy update: RHP Jason Isringhausen threw 27 pitches in two innings in extended spring. He gave up three runs (one earned) on two hits, with his team having two errors. Isringhausen said he felt good and his velocity is up, and he'll do four outings in Double-A Montgomery before joining Durham around April 30.
MISCELLANY: Zobrist is expected to start at shortstop today to give Jason Bartlett a day off. … Maddon will receive his BBWAA American League manager of the year award in a pregame ceremony today. … The Rays have drawn an average of 28,961, a 60.5 percent increase to date over last season (18,040). … Further research by the Rays showed Zobrist's pinch-hit grand slam Friday was the third in club history.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.