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Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett faces challenge adjusting to two double play partners

PORT CHARLOTTE

Most of Jason Bartlett's life is very organized. The Rays All-Star shortstop seems to know where he has to be, what he wants and how he likes things.

And then there is the most hectic and, at times, critical part of his job, where he will have to deal with doing things two different ways around second base with two different partners.

Whereas most teams have a set combination up the middle, the Rays are looking at a time share, with Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez taking turns based on pitching matchups. And while that may maximize their offense, it will also increase the degree of difficulty for their Bartlett-led defense.

"I'm used to it, so that's fine with me," Bartlett said. "Those guys are easy to play with."

The diplomacy is part of his deal as he tries to make it comfortable for both Zobrist, who is still somewhat new to the position, and Rodriguez, who is new to the team following his last-season acquisition from the Angels.

"I don't think it's the ideal situation, but he's flexible with it just like we are," Zobrist said. "It takes a different kind of a guy to be able to do that without having a problem with it."

From Bartlett's perspective, there are two areas of concern.

One is the ball hit slowly up the middle.

When paired with Akinori Iwamura, in 2008 and until his May 2009 knee injury, Bartlett knew Iwamura most often would charge aggressively to make a barehand play, so he would hang back. Now he has to get a feel for the range factor with Zobrist, whom he played with part of last season (along with Willy Aybar), and Rodriguez.

The other is the double play feed, both giving and getting. That tends, given the number of moving parts, to be a little more complicated.

"It's just like a dance," said Tim Bogar, the former Rays coach now with Boston. "You're trying to figure out every move they make, every angle they throw from, every way they're going to deliver the ball, the communication between them."

In this case there's a lot to learn.

"It's not 50 steps," Rodriguez said, "but it's like five important ones."

Both second basemen are trying to accommodate Bartlett by keeping their feeds low since he prefers to throw from a sidearm, or three-quarters, position. And Bartlett has to learn what to expect, whether it will be a hard throw or a pitched flip, as well as the timing. Rodriguez is a little quicker and flashier, Zobrist more mechanical (though he has been working on the flip).

"Bart's one of those guys that can just adjust," Rays infield coach Tom Foley said. "He'll see the ball and go to the ball. He's not one of those guys that's just going to come flying across the bag."

When the ball is hit to Bartlett, he has to get a feel for where his partners want it delivered as they try to make the turn with a runner coming hard. Whereas Iwamura preferred it on the outside of the base, Foley said both Zobrist and Rodriguez like it over the middle.

"It's not a huge thing," Rodriguez said, "but it's definitely more important than people would think."

If it was a dance, Foley said (admittedly dating himself at age 50), it would be a waltz. "Everything has to be smooth," he said. "A smooth transition, and a flow."

Actually, Zobrist said, they wouldn't look too good. "We'd be doing two different dances," he said. "(Bartlett's) smooth. He'd make it look easy, I'd make it look hard."

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

Paired up

Jason Bartlett got used to rotating partners last season after spending most of 2008 with one:

2009 2BGames2008 2BGames
Zobrist65Iwamura114
Iwamura57Zobrist4
Aybar10Aybar3
Brignac1Johnson1
Dillon1

Doubled up

How many double plays does a shortstop turn? Here's Jason Bartlett's breakdown on ground ball DPs the past two seasons:

Year Total 6-4-3 6-3 4-6-3 1-6-3 3-6-3

2008 62 28 4 24 2 4

2009 50 19 4 17 5 5

Source: baseball-reference.com

Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett faces challenge adjusting to two double play partners 03/30/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 9:09am]
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