Burrell fit, motivated to rebound in 2010
In final year of deal, Rays DH out to prove he can produce
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Pat Burrell has plenty of reasons to believe that this season will be better than his last. But perhaps this one stands out:
"[Roy] Halladay's not in the mix anymore," Burrell joked, referring to the All-Star pitcher's move to the National League.
So that helps. But don't ignore the other, equally encouraging reasons to believe that Burrell -- in the second and final year of his free-agent contract with the Rays -- can become the player Tampa Bay thought it had acquired last winter.
He is healthy. He is motivated. He is leaner. And he has grown accustomed to his position and to the league.
"You want to put [last year] behind you, but you also want to be able to build and learn from it," Burrell said. "I've had bad seasons before. It is extra motivation for you to come in and give it that much more focus and determination to turn things around."
Of all his down years, however, 2009 was the worst. Limited to 122 games due to a neck strain, Burrell hit just .221 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs, the latter two numbers career lows. He reached base at a .315 clip, slugged a career-low .367 and by year's end, was batting as far down as ninth in the lineup.
Those looking to place blame can peg Burrell's neck injury, his unfamiliarity with American League pitchers or his learning curve at the designated hitter position. Take your pick. Rays manager Joe Maddon believes it was a combination of all three.
"There was a lot for him to learn last year," Maddon said. "I think there were a lot of reasons why last year wasn't that good, but I believe he's going to bounce back well this year."
Now, coming off a quiet offseason, Burrell has AL experience, DH experience and a new hitting coach in Derek Shelton. Moreover, he is as motivated as ever, knowing his contract is up after this season.
And so Burrell reported to camp Monday, leaner than ever after an offseason of workouts at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona. He has reason to believe he can revert back to his career norms, hitting close to 30 homers with an average above .250.
|"You want to put [last year] behind you, but you also want to be able to build and learn from it. I've had bad seasons before. It is extra motivation for you to come in and give it that much more focus and determination to turn things around."|
|-- Pat Burrell|
Doing so would allow him to slide back up to the middle of Maddon's lineup, essentially giving Tampa Bay the power threat it never had last season.
Doing so would also give Burrell a bit of retribution.
"I'm sure his pride was injured a bit," Maddon said. "This guy expects to play at a much higher level. He expects to be part of a winning team."
Several years ago, when Burrell was still with the Phillies, then-manager Larry Bowa made him write his statistical goals down on a piece of paper. Burrell did, and then met them.
These days, he doesn't look to attain specific numbers. He just wants to spend Spring Training working into the best shape he can, in hopes that the statistics will follow.
"It starts here," Burrell said. "You do everything you can to prepare yourself for the season. I've never believed there's a magic switch that you can just turn on and play."
If he succeeds, future employment should follow. At 33, Burrell won't have the opportunity to sign many more contracts. And so he knows he has to make the most of this chance, just as the Rays want to make the most of his time here.
"I don't know what the future holds as far as that goes," Burrell said. "But I know you want to do everything you can to put yourself in the best position. There is a business side to it, and you want to capitalize on that."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.