3/11/2013 8:30 P.M. ET
Search for consistency priority No. 1 for Rodriguez
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- A visitor asked Sean Rodriguez if he had ever heard an old saying credited to Vince Lombardi: "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get back up."
The Rays infielder/outfielder nodded and smiled.
"I love that saying," Rodriguez said. "I always say, 'When you hit rock bottom, that's when you've got to be at your greatest.' That's when your character really gets defined."
Rodriguez got knocked down last season. Now he's back on his feet and looking to finally find the consistency that he's been lacking.
"Roddy" or "S-Rod," as he's known in the Rays' clubhouse, was the team's Opening Day shortstop last season, but he also played third base, second base and shortstop. He hit .248 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his first 42 games (through May 22), but only .185 with two home runs and 18 RBIs in 70 games after that.
Included in the downward spiral was a late-season demotion to Triple-A Durham, which featured an incident when he got upset with a teammate and he took out his frustrations on a locker with his right hand. The punch caused a right-hand fracture and plenty of embarrassment.
"Hopefully, I've learned from that," Rodriguez said. "I wouldn't call [last season] frustrating, because we were still playing good. It was more disappointing on my own part. There's a learning curve. I feel like there's a learning curve in this game. Sometimes you don't necessarily perform to the level you're capable of, to what you expect of yourself. But sometimes it's enough. I didn't feel like I did enough. I didn't feel like I did near enough [last season]. Even the year before wasn't great either. But I took it for what it was. I felt like I contributed more that year."
Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn't like to analyze what happened to Rodriguez last season.
"I think he never got it going," Maddon said. "I don't know if [Evan Longoria] being out, he felt like he had to do more, I'm not 100 percent sure. I mean those are the kinds of conversations I don't really like to have, because I don't want to put thoughts in guys' heads if they're not really thinking that, so I want to be careful. I just think he had a hard time getting on a really good role at all."
Any fan can show up to Tropicana Field on any given night and come away believing that Sean Rodriguez is one of the most gifted players in the game, even if they're liable to see him playing any one of seven positions -- and perhaps even catcher if an emergency situation presents itself. That's because the native of Miami has plus skills across the board. And it's why the Rays continue to believe in Rodriguez and hope that he can harness his abilities and find what's been the missing ingredient to his game: consistency.
"The natural power's there," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "Tremendous bat speed, it's just finding the consistency, No. 1, in his swing. And that's something we've worked on and we've adjusted. And the second thing, and probably most important, is consistency of controlling the strike zone. I think once he harnesses that, that's when we're going to see the true ability and potential that he has."
Despite his struggles, Rodriguez feels blessed for the abilities he has and fortunate to have the opportunities he has had.
"Not only have I had the opportunity, I've had people who believed in me," Rodriguez said. "That's not easy to come by, and I'm very grateful for that.
"I definitely feel like there's more in there [consistency-wise]. It's just about finding it and putting it out there. You can ask any hitter in here and they'll tell you that it's all about consistency. Having the right approach consistently, having the right mindset consistently, taking the same swing, same routine. Everybody has their thing to keep them going. It's just consistently finding that and continuing to repeat that."
Rodriguez got knocked down and he believes he's well on his way toward getting back up.
"I feel really comfortable where I'm at right now and the way I ended the season last year," Rodriguez said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.