Tampa Bay Rays may continue to put Ben Zobrist at shortstop

MINNEAPOLIS — On the second day of playing Ben Zobrist at shortstop, manager Joe Maddon still referred to it as an experiment. But he is open to a more permanent designation.

Maddon said Friday that his initial thought if all goes well is for a job share. Zobrist would start at shortstop when flyball pitchers such as Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson are on the mound, and then either Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez (for now) would play when the other three starters work.

But, Maddon said, "if (Zobrist) starts getting challenged and he's doing really well, then you might reconsider even that, because offensively it really stacks up possibly better for us. So we'll see."

Zobrist, who came up as a shortstop in the Astros system and played there with the Rays before evolving into a superutility role, said he is all for the move.

"I still feel I can do it," Zobrist said. "And I still feel that is my favorite position."

Though the footwork and positioning, especially under the Rays' complex shifting, is different from second base, Zobrist said the bigger issue — "the hardest thing" — is the throw, which is longer and often made quicker.

After making only two somewhat routine plays Thursday, Zobrist was challenged quickly Friday, making two tough plays in the first, four overall. "He made some really good plays," Maddon said. "And he looked very comfortable."

Maddon moved Zobrist to short as a way to keep Ryan Roberts and Jeff Keppinger in the lineup after the return of Evan Longoria. And with the possibility, if not probability, that Rodriguez will be sent to the minors next week to make room for Luke Scott, the time was right to take a look.

J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell tied the team relief record just set by Fernando Rodney with his 22nd straight scoreless inning. "I'm honored to be next to him in anything,'' Howell said.

LONGOria UPDATE: Maddon said he was planning to not start Longoria, who had played as the DH in all three games since returning Tuesday from the DL. But Longoria said he felt good — "no setbacks, no lingering stiffness or soreness" — and head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield was "very, very strongly in favor." So Maddon happily altered his lineup Friday.

With the Rays in the midst of 19 consecutive games (and a long three-city trip), there will be a day or two when Maddon tells Longoria, who was out more than three months with a left hamstring injury, that he's going to be rested. "He's going to try," Longoria said. "Hopefully all is well and I don't have to get (a day off). I'm sure I'll be talked to at some point."

Longoria said he continues to feel comfortable at third base and, while acknowledging there will be a mental hurdle, he hopes to get back to playing the field soon. But Maddon, though glad to hear the progress report, said he did not expect that to happen during the trip, which runs through Aug. 19. "It would be a great surprise."

REHAB REPORT: Scott, recovering from an oblique strain, was rained out of his first rehab game with advanced Class A Charlotte on Friday. He will play tonight and likely again Sunday, pushing his re-evaluation back to Monday.

RHP Jeff Niemann, returning from a mid-May broken right leg, felt good in a bullpen session Friday and is set to make his second rehab start Tuesday for Charlotte at Bradenton.

MISCELLANY: Zobrist tied the team record by grounding into three double plays. … RF Matt Joyce extended his hitting streak to nine games. … LHP David Price starts tonight looking to extend his streak of nine consecutive starts working seven or more innings. "That's what you want to do," he said. … Top 2011 draft pick RHP Taylor Guerrieri was one of six short-season Class A Hudson Valley players named to the New York-Penn League All-Star team. Also named: OF Joey Rickard; INFs Tommy Coyle, Leonardo Reginatto; pitchers Jeff Ames, Jose Molina.

Tampa Bay Rays may continue to put Ben Zobrist at shortstop 08/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 11, 2012 1:46am]

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