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05/11/08 1:26 PM ET

Zobrist on pins and needles for return

Date of utility man's return uncertain, though it could be Monday

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist could be available to play as early as Monday night's game against the Yankees.

Zobrist is expected to have the pins removed from his left thumb on Monday morning.

"The doctor told me I can play the same day [the pins are removed]," Zobrist said. "When they take the pins out, it's not going to take but an hour or two, and it won't feel any different than it did before."

Zobrist juggled positions during the early part of Spring Training in hopes of becoming a "super utility" player before he suffered a hairline fracture of the tip of his left thumb while sliding into second base during a March 9 game against the Reds.

Foremost to Zobrist's usefulness was his ability to play shortstop when starter Jason Bartlett needed a day off. Currently, Andy Cannizaro is serving as the backup shortstop.

Zobrist, who was the Rays' Opening Day shortstop in 2007, was hitting .421 (8-for-19) in eight Spring Training games before the injury. Despite having the pins in his thumb, he has been playing, recently playing a four-game Minor League rehab stint at Class A Vero Beach.

"I can play with them. I can bend my thumb, I can do everything I normally can do with them in," Zobrist said. "It's just [that] the pins are still in there. It doesn't hinder the joint or anything."

Zobrist did not spend any time in the outfield at Vero Beach, but he did play shortstop, third base and second.

"[The] last four days in Vero, I had a real good time there getting my rhythm back, spending time with those younger guys," Zobrist said. "I feel real good at the plate. ... That's been a little harder, because I originally thought the hitting would take longer, but the fielding, just catching the ball, has taken longer, until the last few days when I was in Vero and it started feeling normal."

Rays manager Joe Maddon answered "There's a chance" when asked if Zobrist would be activated for Monday night's game.

"They've got to pull [the pins] out, and who knows? It's really freaky looking," Maddon said. "We'll know more when he gets back from the doctor. There is a chance."

Zobrist called his experience a "test of patience."

"I would like to be [activated on Monday]," Zobrist said. "I don't know what they want to do, whether they want me to get a few more at-bats or get a little more comfortable in the field at Durham. I really don't know. But I expect to be ready by at least Thursday."

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