Notes: Zobrist may fill super utility role
Last year's starting shortstop could be used in different spots
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon likes having a super utility player on his roster, someone who can play multiple positions in the same vein as Chone Figgins of the Angels.
Maddon said having such a player is especially important when the team is carrying 12 pitchers, as the Rays plan to do.
"He has to be able to play shortstop at some point," said Maddon explaining what he's looking for in said utility player. "If he can do that, he can probably play all of the other infield positions and can likely play center field. If he can play center field, he can play the corners, too.
"Having the one guy who can do so many things really matters. ... When the game is in progress, [having a super utility guy] allows you to do a lot of different things."
Maddon believes all Major League managers would like to have a super utility player. Ben Zobrist, who began the 2007 season as the Rays' starting shortstop, appears to have an excellent chance to earn the role.
"We're kind of breeding one with Zoey," Maddon said. "He likes it and has embraced it. We'll see how that goes."
Andy Cannizaro is the other serious candidate to claim the job.
Four pitches: Count Mitch Talbot among the talented mix of young pitchers pushing the Rays' Major Leaguers this spring. The right-hander went 13-9 with a 4.53 ERA at Triple-A Durham in 2007.
Talbot has been working to refine a fourth pitch, a slider.
The slider is "actually coming along really well," Talbot said. "It's a lot sharper, better break, a lot of depth."
Talbot started tinkering with the slider in 2006 at Double-A Montgomery.
"[I] didn't really get a feel for it then, didn't really get a feel for it last year," he said. "This year, I've thrown some good ones here and there up in Utah, before I got here. Since I've been here, it's been really nice."
Some pitchers don't have enough pitches, while others have too many. Talbot believes four suits him fine.
Having four pitches is "usually good for a starter," Talbot said. "If you're a reliever, two solid pitches, you can get away with that. If you're going to throw five, six, seven innings, you want to have as many pitches as you can handle."
In addition to his slider, Talbot throws a fastball, a cutter and a changeup.
Minor League pitching coordinator Dick Bosman said four pitches usually is too many.
"And I'm the first guy to eliminate one of the breaking balls that isn't very good and concentrate on the one that is," Bosman said. "In [Talbot's] case, all the pitches are kind of separate from each other. So it's not hard to concentrate on each one without one becoming the other.
"Like a lot of guys will throw curveballs and sliders. And in the bullpen the catcher will say, 'Now which one was that?' Then again, the hitter, he doesn't distinguish much between the two. So it becomes a diminishing returns thing when a guy tries to do that."
Talbot, who was acquired by the Rays in a trade with the Astros in 2006, will get a chance to pitch against his former team Wednesday when Houston comes to Progress Energy Park.
This and that: Reliever Juan Salas continues to have visa problems and has not yet arrived to camp. "It's impacting his chances right now," Maddon said. ... Lefty David Price, last year's top overall Draft pick, will throw a simulated game against hitters Wednesday in advance of making his first appearance in a game Saturday. ... Lefty ace Scott Kazmir continued to progress from a left elbow strain by throwing 22 times into a sock, which is a drill where he uses a ball in a sock to simulate the throwing motion. He said he feels fine and doesn't believe he will have to go back to square one to get ready for the season once he begins throwing again. ... Closer Troy Percival threw a bullpen Tuesday and will make his first spring appearance in a game Thursday.
Up next: The Rays will host the Astros on Wednesday in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest at Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field. Jason Hammel will start for the Rays and will be followed by Talbot, Gary Glover, Dan Wheeler, Scott Dohmann, Kirk Birkins and Scott Munter. Runelvys Hernandez will start for the Astros and will be followed by Jack Cassel, Geoff Geary, Brad James and Josh Muecke.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.