© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

03/18/08 2:08 PM ET

Zobrist has cast removed from left hand

Nursing broken thumb, infielder hopes to be ready for opener

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Rays infielder Ben Zobrist had the cast removed from his left hand Monday and is now wearing only a splint on his broken left thumb.

Zobrist had been juggling different positions this spring in hopes of becoming a "super utility" player when he suffered a hairline fracture on the tip of his left thumb sliding into second base March 9 against the Reds.

Initially, the setback appeared like it might linger through the first week of the season. Now Zobrist is optimistic about being ready for Opening Day.

"I think so," said Zobrist. "They haven't told me. And I don't want to speak for [head athletic trainer] Ron [Porterfield], because Ron knows what he's doing, and the rest of the training staff. But in my mind, I'm going to be back. I'm going to be ready to go. I hope to even play a couple of games at the end of next week before we finish up here."

Primary to Zobrist's duties as a super utility man is the ability to play shortstop when starter Jason Bartlett needs a day off. If Zobrist is not ready for Opening Day, the Rays would likely look to Andy Cannizaro or Reid Brignac to serve as the backup shortstop.

Zobrist said the cast originally was supposed to be removed next Monday.

"But they took a look at it and, obviously, it's not fully healed yet, but [the doctor was] like, 'We can put you in a splint,'" Zobrist said.

Zobrist said having the cast off has allowed him to move his thumb and wrist, which will afford him the opportunity to begin strengthening those areas in advance of his return.

"The only pain is when you squeeze [the tip of the thumb], or something like that, otherwise there is no pain," he said.

Zobrist doesn't anticipate having any problems swinging the bat, but said he would have to be cautious about hitting the thumb when he is fielding.

"That would hurt worse than anything [right now]," Zobrist said.

Rays manager Joe Maddon cautioned that Zobrist might have to see the doctor again by the end of the week, "but it's looking good so far."

As for Opening Day, Maddon is not sure Zobrist will be ready.

"You have to take at-bats, all the other little things you have to do to get ready for the season," Maddon said. "I'm not sure about that yet, we'll see. He's been playing catch. I know his arm is still in shape. He's been doing anything he can possibly do to stay under the circumstances to stay ready, and that's typical Zobrist right there. Again, he just has not been able to hit, which would be a big factor."

Zobrist was hitting .421 (8-for-19) in eight games before the injury.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.