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Well-traveled Felipe Lopez hopes to find a home with Tampa Bay Rays

Felipe Lopez strokes a hit during what has been an impressive spring so far, with a .500 average (8-for-16) and only one strikeout in his bid to make the Rays as a backup infielder.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Felipe Lopez strokes a hit during what has been an impressive spring so far, with a .500 average (8-for-16) and only one strikeout in his bid to make the Rays as a backup infielder.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Few players in baseball have been as well-traveled as Rays infielder Felipe Lopez.

Lopez, 30, who signed a minor-league deal last month, is on his eighth team in 10 big-league seasons and fifth in his past three.

"It's hard, but you've still got to go out there and play," Lopez said. "I would like to stay with one team, but it is what it is."

Lopez would love to find a home in Tampa Bay, which is close to his longtime residence in Orlando. He's an intriguing option for the Rays bench, competing with Elliot Johnson for the utility infielder spot.

Lopez was an All-Star and Silver Slugger award winner in 2005 with the Reds, when he led National League shortstops with 23 homers and 85 RBIs. He had been a front-line player as late as 2009, split between Arizona and Milwaukee. The switch-hitter can play second, short and third and would provide a veteran presence in a young middle infield featuring shortstop Reid Brignac and second baseman Sean Rodriguez.

And with Johnson being sidelined the past week with left quad tightness, Lopez has been given a hard look. He's hitting .500 (8-for-16) with just one strikeout.

"I've liked what I've seen," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's played various positions, got good feet when he fields the ball, got good hands. He's a switch-hitter who looks like he works good at-bats from both sides of the plate. I've liked him."

Lopez is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season. He hit .310 in 2009 but dipped to .233 combined last year between St. Louis and Boston. He filled in as the starting third baseman for the Cardinals when David Freese was injured but saw his playing time dwindle when Pedro Feliz was acquired in August.

Lopez was released Sept. 21 after showing up late for a makeup game against the Marlins, with general manager John Mozeliak saying it wasn't the first time he was tardy. Boston picked him up on a waiver claim.

"Last year, I don't even want to talk about it, because it is in the past," Lopez said. "I feel good now, and that's what I'm working toward, working really hard. And it's a good atmosphere here."

Lopez, the Blue Jays' first-round pick in 1998 after starring at Altamonte Springs' Lake Brantley High, saw the Rays as a great opportunity, pointing out their talent and the holes they needed to fill.

"I think I can come in and contribute; I know I can play," Lopez said. "Everybody knows I can play. I just came here with a good attitude and am working hard, and we'll see what happens."

Lopez's main competition is Johnson, 26, who has been in the Rays' minor-league system the past nine years and is coming off a breakout season at Triple A. Johnson, already on the 40-man roster, is also a switch-hitter and can play the outfield, but he has played in just seven big-league games.

"Felipe has got some really good experience and has been a pretty good hitter on the major-league level," Maddon said. "So he can provide coverage on the infield, including shortstop. E.J. provides coverage on the infield and outfield, including shortstop. Just play it out and see where each one is at as the camp progresses and try to make our best call at that point."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Well-traveled Felipe Lopez hopes to find a home with Tampa Bay Rays 03/07/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 7, 2011 7:36pm]
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