Injuries force Maddon to juggle lineup
With Bartlett and Iwamura out, Rays shuffle fielders
CLEVELAND -- Thanks to a series of injuries, Rays manager Joe Maddon has been forced to juggle his lineup.With second baseman Akinori Iwamura out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and shortstop Jason Bartlett on the disabled list for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, the middle of the Rays' infield will have multiple looks. "It's pretty much a day-by-day situation," Maddon said. Willy Aybar was in the starting lineup at second base for the third straight game on Wednesday night against the Indians. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay's versatile utility man, started at short after rookie Reid Brignac started there the first two games of this series. Zobrist was in right field the first two games. The middle infield situation will also affect the rest of the lineup. Gabe Kapler started in right field while Joe Dillon, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Durham on Tuesday, was the designated hitter, a spot held by Gabe Gross the first two games. Maddon will have to employ such strategy until Bartlett returns, which the Rays hope won't be any longer than his stay on the 15-day DL. "You're seeing it tonight a little bit," Maddon said. "We're facing a lefty [Zach Jackson] tonight so Zobrist [a switch-hitter] is at short because Brignac hits left-handed. Willy's been playing a lot of second. Part of that is based on keeping Zobrist in the game because he is the backup shortstop and that's why Gross has been the DH."
Maddon wants to avoid having Zobrist be the DH, which would pose a problem if he would have to go in the game at short. The same situation would also apply at second base if Aybar was the DH.When Iwamura was injured, Brignac was scheduled to be in the mix with Aybar and Zobrist at second. That changed when Bartlett got hurt. Brignac will see most of the action at short when he's in the lineup. "Brignac's been our most consistent shortstop," Maddon said. "He's had a good pedigree in the Minor Leagues and there are a lot of good things about him. I believe he's going to be a very good player. If I wanted to go away from this somewhat of a rotation system, [and] if we felt we wanted to get overall better defense at short, we could start Reid versus righties." For the time being, Maddon wants Brignac to concentrate on playing short. "I wanted Reid to focus on second base when J.B. was here," Maddon said. "Now that J.B. is down, Reid's pretty much going to stay at shortstop and we have to focus on second base." Replacing Iwamura and Bartlett won't be easy. Iwamura was batting .310 in 44 games while Bartlett has been having an All-Star season with a .373 batting average, seven homers, 30 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and four errors in 44 games.
Steve Herrick is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.