Thursday, April 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has flexibility to help offense thanks to Ben Zobrist's move to shortstop

Moving Ben Zobrist to shortstop was the first step leading to several interesting decisions looming for the Rays over the remaining six weeks.

Besides allowing manager Joe Maddon to continually refer to him as "Cal Zobrist," it gives the Rays options to maximize their offense they didn't have before.

"Had (Zobrist) not been able to show us he could do that, then you're maybe doing some things you don't want to do," Maddon said. "He permits us to do things we want to do."

The standard alignment has been Zobrist at short, Jeff Keppinger at third and Ryan Roberts at second — the upside being Roberts (and rightfielder Matt Joyce) in the lineup instead of lighter-hitting Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez.

With DH Luke Scott coming off the disabled list and Evan Longoria possibly returning to third base this week, they'll be able to do even more intriguing things.

With Longoria at third, Keppinger can share time with Roberts at second and DH some. But there will be times — and, such as Friday, not just against tough lefties — when they play Keppinger at first in place of Carlos Peña. Also, Scott has been working at first base. So when Maddon wants to go offense-first, there may be more days when the lineup doesn't include Peña.

The Rays also have right-hander Jeff Niemann coming off the disabled list at the end of August or, conveniently given pending roster expansion, Sept. 1. But right-hander Alex Cobb has done too well in his stead to simply be replaced. And right-hander Jeremy Hellickson isn't going anywhere. There may be a six-man turn to provide some rest, or Niemann may just have to fill in if/when needed.

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