CLEARWATER — Manager Joe Maddon doesn't mind letting Pat Burrell run around on the grass during the spring, giving him a chance Sunday, with a few others planned, to play the outfield.
But Maddon made it very clear that once the games count, Burrell's sole job will be to do a better job at what the Rays brought him in to do.
"I don't want to confuse anything," Maddon said. "The plan is for him to be the DH."
Burrell's interest in playing more in the outfield didn't surprise the Rays given how much he struggled last season in his first experience as a full-time DH, hitting .221 (lowest of all AL players with at least 450 plate appearances) with 14 homers (10 solo, all vs. right-handers) and 64 RBIs.
"I think he thinks that it may help him become a better hitter here, and I understand that," Maddon said.
But Burrell, who played leftfield regularly in Philadelphia, will have to figure something else out because the Rays value defense too much — and have too many other options for their open rightfield spot — to compromise by putting him in the field on a regular basis.
"I'm not going to play him in the outfield if I think we're better suited to have him not play in the outfield and DH," Maddon said. "You look at our team defensively. We talk about that every day. We really pride ourselves in that. We know that's a big part of our success. Obviously we have some really good defenders out there.
"I'm not saying he can't get out there. We'll see how the season plays out. But for right now, he's a DH. And we're going to have to figure out a way for him to deal with that."
The Rays can make suggestions, Maddon said, but ultimately "it's just something he's going to have to figure out on his own."
If that's the case, Burrell said, then so be it. The 11-year veteran will do what he can to improve, hoping the experience of his first season with the Rays helps him get a better handle on the necessary adjustments, such as staying active and involved in the game between at-bats.
"If it comes to the point where it's like last year where I don't get a chance to play much (in the field), I've just got to commit to the role," Burrell, 33, said. "I certainly knew what I signed up for as far as what I was going to do. I knew there was a chance I might play a little, but for the most part I was going to DH, so you just commit to the role and you do the best you can to try to make the adjustments and go out there and be productive.
"Last year, I just didn't have a very easy time doing that, but like I said, I'm confident about this year. I feel like I'm in a much better place physically and mentally as far as knowing what to expect, and I think that's a big thing."
Marc Topkin can be reached at topk[email protected]