05/05/2013 6:04 PM ET
With new confidence, Lobaton back in lineup
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
DENVER -- Jose Lobaton was back in the Rays' lineup and behind the plate Sunday, earning the start in two of the three games in Colorado. Lobaton has caught 13 games for the Rays, and the team was 7-5 in his starts heading into Sunday, while posting a 6-11 record with Jose Molina behind the plate.
"He's been more consistent, because, I believe, he's arriving at that stage as a player where he believes he belongs here," manager Joe Maddon said of Lobaton. "It's no longer survival. He's got a calm about his game right now, which is good. You can see it in his at-bats."
It also showed up in a big situation Friday night, when Brandon Gomes was facing Jordan Pacheco with the bases loaded and two out. Gomes threw a ball in the dirt, and Lobaton's stop saved a run and enabled Gomes to strike out Pacheco and strand the runners, keeping the game tied until the Rays finally won it in the 10th.
"I thought one of the biggest plays of the night was blocking that pitch in the dirt and preventing a run from scoring," Maddon said. "That was outstanding. It was a very critical moment."
Maddon holding roster spot as Zobrist tends to family
DENVER -- Ben Zobrist left the Rays on Sunday to fly home to Illinois following the death of his grandmother Friday.
"He's going to miss today and tomorrow," manager Joe Maddon said before Sunday's series finale against the Rockies. "He'll be back Tuesday."
Zobrist is not going on the bereavement list, which carries a minimum three days off the roster and a maximum of seven, so the Rays started Sunday's game with only 22 players available in their dugout. Shortstop Yunel Escobar is out after being hit on the hand with a pitch from Jon Garland in Saturday night's game, and Monday's starting pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson, left for the airport before Sunday's game so he could get in early before his start the following day. Maddon could potentially use a starting pitcher to pinch-run or pinch-hit for another pitcher.
"We're a little bit hamstrung today, so we have to pick and choose differently," Maddon said. "Regarding the utilization of pitchers, I'm really apprehensive about that. I'm not really comfortable with a pinch-running role this early in the year under these circumstances. They haven't had a chance to really get into it. That part bothers me a little bit."
When Escobar left the game in the second inning Saturday, Zobrist moved from second to short, and Ryan Roberts came in at second.
"Yunel is sore, but he's in good spirits," Maddon said. "[Head Athletic trainer Ron Porterfield] thinks maybe three days, something like that. Yunel wants to play. He just can't; the hand's too thick right now. Give him a couple days, and the hand will be fine."
The situation leaves the Rays without their first two choices at shortstop, giving Sean Rodriguez the start with Roberts back at second. If game circumstances call for another shortstop, Maddon confirmed his choices would be third baseman Evan Longoria, Roberts or left fielder Kelly Johnson.
"It depends on the time of game who's going to be in there," Maddon said. "I feel comfortable with Longo there, but I don't know how he's feeling necessarily. I feel good with Ryan over there, but then you'd have to put Kelly at second. We still have the ability to do different things, but it's obviously not within our normal comfort range where we like to be able to do a lot of different things."
Maddon considered putting Zobrist on the bereavement list and calling up a shortstop for three days but ultimately decided against it.
"I'd rather play one day short here and then have him back one day sooner on the back side," Maddon said. "I'd rather have the third day of Zobrist. The National League game was the only part of it that made it a difficult decision.
"I'd like to see the bereavement list changed," he added, feeling the rule penalizes a player who can otherwise return earlier. "Why three days? I think there should be a maximum number of days, but not a minimum. It's a legitimate reason why he's gone."
Maddon hoping Rays trend upward at home
DENVER -- The Rays have played only five more road games than home games, but after spending 22 of the last 28 days on the road, they are ready to head home and find their rhythm again.
"The routine's been difficult, but we're better than that," manager Joe Maddon said. "We have to play better on the road. The game has been inconsistent for us. We started out not hitting; we're not pitching as well right now. The defense has been relatively consistent. We have to play a better brand of baseball, and we're very capable."
The Rays' defense remains among the best in baseball, ranked sixth in the Majors with a .990 winning percentage. As far as consistency goes, the team made only 11 errors in its first 29 games, and never two in one game. Last season, the Rays had 20 errors after 29 games, include six multi-error games.
Tampa Bay entered Sunday hitting .245, fifth worst in the American League, and it showed a 4.35 ERA, fourth from the league cellar. But the team had a 3.50 ERA in its 12 home games.
"I want to believe that we can get out pitching back in order in our ballpark," Maddon said. "That's one of the things that I'm looking forward to. We don't win unless we pitch like we can, and we have not pitched like we can up to this point. We need to get that back right. I like where the offense is trending right now up and down the lineup. I like the defense. I think the biggest difference on the negative road trips is that we have not pitched to our normal level. Maybe in Boston we did, but overall we have not pitched to our normal level, and we've got to get back to that, because that's how we're going to win 90-plus games."
With a 10-game, 11-day homestand starting Monday, the Rays have a chance to find their rhythm and establish momentum for the first time since the Grapefruit League wrapped up.
"It's a carryover form the conclusion of Spring Training," Maddon said of the team's inability to get clicking on all cylinders. "Everything's just a little off; it's just not quite there. "It's not attitudinal. Things just aren't working. David [Price] hasn't pitched his best ball to this point. And he will. Some of the hitters have been up and down; some of them are starting to look better right now. You just got to stay with the boys, keep a consistent message, and it will turn around."
• As the Rays spent Cinco de Mayo in Colorado, Maddon cranked up the volume on Linda Ronstadt's "Canciones De Mi Padre," her Spanish-language recording of traditional Mexican folk songs.
Earlier in the morning, Maddon's playlist found John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" competing with a clubhouse selection of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice." But lest anyone think Maddon was skewing toward his past as a Boulder Collegians semi-pro player, he coupled the Denver classic with Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend," perhaps sending a message from the manager's office.
Maddon's commemorative gnome also played a part in the celebration, hoping to improve the team's 4-5 record since the Rays gave away Maddon garden gnomes April 24.
"He came in with a sombrero on today, and I took that as a good sign," Maddon said. "A little bit of a mustache was dripping from some enchilada."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.