Zobrist's defensive gem gets notice
Backup shortstop turning heads with his play in the outfield
BALTIMORE -- Ben Zobrist received some love from ESPN following Friday night's 5-4 loss to the Orioles when the sports network ranked a defensive play by Zobrist as the third best play of the day.
Playing right field, Zobrist made an amazing catch in the second when he dove to backhand Cesar Izturis' sinking line drive. He then got to his feet and threw a strike to shortstop Jason Bartlett, who stepped on second base to double off Gregg Zaun.
"I felt real good about it, I felt great," said Zobrist, who had not seen the replay of his catch. "I'm just trying to keep replaying that in my mind so I can keep that confidence going out there knowing I can make plays like that."
Zobrist, who came to the Rays as a shortstop and has since evolved into a utility man, entered the 2009 season having played 19 Major League games in the outfield. So making a play like the one he made Friday night demonstrated that he has grown comfortable and confident enough in the outfield to make such a play.
"Yeah, you have to have some confidence [to dive for a ball like that] because you don't want it to get past you if you make a wrong judgment," Zobrist said. "That was really the first chance I've had to do that and it's fun. That's what I used to do playing in the yard, you know."
Bench coach Davey Martinez, who is a former Major League outfielder, views Zobrist as a potential everyday outfielder.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do," Martinez said. "We've got him right now playing shallow, which is tough to do when you're not playing all the time. He's comfortable doing it. He's making great plays. He's getting great jumps. He's doing all the little things we've asked him to do."
Martinez complimented Zobrist's work ethic and said he considered Zobrist "the consummate professional." In short, Martinez surmised that Zobrist has graduated to where he's become a legitimate Major League outfielder. Martinez said the only thing he and other coaches stress to Zobrist is the need to pay attention to his throwing.
"Throwing is a lot different in the outfield," Martinez said. "So we tell him twice a week to play long toss, that way your arm stays long and you don't hurt yourself."
Rays manager Joe Maddon likes Zobrist in the outfield and didn't rule out the possibility that he could eventually become only an outfielder. But don't forget, Zobrist is still the team's backup shortstop.
"He can play all three outfield positions," Maddon said. "It's not impossible [that he could become only an outfielder], but by doing what he's doing, [playing] all the different positions, I think that makes him more valuable. By being able to play on the dirt is always going to make him more attractive to not only us, but to other teams."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.