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Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez yearns for everyday job

Sean Rodriguez, making the pivot after tagging Robinson Cano at second, would like to play one position daily.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Sean Rodriguez, making the pivot after tagging Robinson Cano at second, would like to play one position daily.

PORT CHARLOTTE — As Rays manager Joe Maddon scrolls through his definition of the ultimate super utility player, it's obvious that Sean Rodriguez is pretty much the textbook example.

Rodriguez is versatile enough, athletic enough, savvy enough and willing enough to play anywhere on the field — infield, outfield and catcher if asked, and plenty of arm to pitch if ever needed — and talented enough to do it all well.

"For me," Maddon said, "the real Super-U guy can play shortstop and centerfield. That's a keeper. And if he can add catching into that, my God, he's a franchise player."

As impressive a portfolio as that it is, it's not enough for Rodriguez.

What he'd really like, at 25 and entering his second full season in the majors, is the chance to play every day — moving around if he has to but preferably at one position, either second base or shortstop.

"I want to be a starting guy at one position every day," Rodriguez said. "I don't want to say that I don't like doing the utility role, because, of course, I don't mind. But, yes, I would love an everyday job, only because I know what I'm capable of doing could help the team out. If given that chance to find that groove, that everyday groove, I think it could help the team."

There's nothing wrong with Rodriguez thinking that way, Maddon says.

But the Rays don't think he's ready to get it right.

More specifically, that Rodriguez, a right-handed hitter, isn't yet able to hit right-handed pitchers on a consistent enough basis to be in the lineup every day.

"It's all about his bat," Maddon said. "It's nothing else. If he's able to grow as a hitter against right-handed pitchers, he can be an everyday second baseman."

And that's where Rodriguez — who came up as a shortstop with the Angels before being switched to second base — has no choice but to really be a team player.

Maddon points out, correctly, that Rodriguez has failed thus far to show he can hit right-handed pitching in the big leagues: A career .226 average, .276 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage (a .646 OPS), compared to .250/.335/.381 (.716) vs. lefties, albeit in a small sample as he has fewer than 600 total plate appearances (which is about a full season) over three years with the Angels and Rays.

But Rodriguez counters, correctly, that he has hit right-handers in the minor leagues (with a .276 average his past four seasons) and in spring training (where teammates joke he'd be a charter member of the Spring Hall of Fame) and merely needs an opportunity to do so on a regular basis in the majors.

"Some people say, 'Well, you can hit in spring training,' " Rodriguez said. "I don't see it like that. I see it as I can hit in spring training because I play every day. … So I want to keep facing righties, and I want to show them I can hit righties."

But — like lefty swinging outfielder Matt Joyce, who is hoping for the same chance against left-handers — Rodriguez is left living a conundrum: How to show he's better against right-handers without getting to face any?

Maddon understands but says the Rays are not set up that way right now. In other words, barring injury or an unforeseen change in plans, Rodriguez is likely headed to another season of part-time play, sharing second base with Ben Zobrist, filling in elsewhere as needed.

"His defense is among the best, he's a very good baserunner, he understands the game, he's all about winning, he's a great team guy, he drips with intangibles," Maddon said. "It's just that one area — when he gets better right on right, he'll take off."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez yearns for everyday job 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 10:56pm]
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