Zobrist showcasing power stroke
Maddon approves of utilityman's new approach at the plate
CHICAGO -- Ben Zobrist drove in a career-high three runs on Friday night with a two-run homer and an RBI single in the Rays' 9-4 win over the White Sox.
In the past, the Rays' utilityman has had the look of a Punch-and-Judy hitter, but this season he has brought a different look to the plate.
Joe Maddon has noticed a different Zobrist, and has even taken to referring to him as "Zo-rilla" for his newfound power stroke that has produced six home runs in 122 at-bats this season. The Rays' manager even allowed that Zobrist has managed to change his impression of him.
"Came up as a shortstop, right now he's swinging the bat like a corner man, anywhere you want to put him," Maddon said. "I like the idea he's so versatile. I feel very comfortable playing him anywhere. I know he's going to be ready. I know he has the physical ability to play in a lot of different spots, and when you combine that with what he's doing offensively, and he's made himself very interesting."
Zobrist has split time between Triple-A Durham and Tampa Bay this season. He is hitting .238 in part-time play for the Rays, which is a marked improvement over 2007, when he hit .155 in 31 games.
"I think he's setting up different," Maddon said. "I think he's in a stronger stance to begin with, and he's swinging the bat with a lot more force -- really good from both sides, really flat swing. Just a more powerful approach, that's what I'm seeing.
"And when he's seeing his pitch, he's hitting it hard and keeping it fair -- even some balls he's fouled straight back, just technically really good swings. Believe me, I think he's stronger, but more than anything, I think he's made an adjustment in his approach that looks really good."
Maddon also believes Zobrist is a different player, mentally.
"I just get a sense from Zobrist right now that he feels like he belongs here," Maddon said. "When you believe that, you can go out there more full throttle, not be as concerned about making a mistake, and that's what I'm seeing."
Zobrist agreed with his manager's assessment about where he was, mentally. He has admitted to playing in the past with a timid attitude.
"I always grew up just kind of slapping the ball, because I was always small when I was younger," said Zobrist, who now stands 6-foot-3 and a solid 200 pounds. "So I just slapped the ball to try and get on base and I just continued that. I hit some home runs in college, but that was with a metal bat. When I got to pro ball, I hit a few home runs, but I was always hitting good, so nobody ever said try to do more than that. They didn't want to screw me up or whatever.
"So pretty much, after I came up here and failed and wasn't hitting the ball like I was in the Minor Leagues, I was like, 'Why not just see if I can do it? And at least if I am going to hit lower than I was in the Minor Leagues, make it be with some more impact.'"
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.