Zobrist making most of opportunity
Rays second baseman has thrived since Iwamura's injury
ST. PETERSBURG -- Opportunities are everything in baseball, and Ben Zobrist has made the most of his while becoming the Rays' everyday second baseman this season.
Since Akinori Iwamura went on the disabled list May 25, Zobrist has essentially been the team's starting second baseman. The Rays are 32-22 in games that Zobrist has started at second after being 22-20 with Iwamura starting at the position.
Entering the 2009 season, Zobrist's strength to the team came in his versatility and the number of positions he could play. Now it's not a stretch to think about Zobrist becoming a full-time second baseman.
"That's something that's out of my control," Zobrist said. "I mean I would love to play there. I feel very comfortable there. And I feel like it's a position that suits me very well, as far as my tools. But I could see myself being very comfortable at a lot of positions."
Ironically, second base wasn't even on the radar for Zobrist when he first came to the Rays as a shortstop in a 2006 trade with the Astros.
"I had played second base in college, so I always knew I could play the position if I got put there," Zobrist said. "But a few years ago, I thought my position was going to be shortstop. Shortstop was what I came up as. And I guess there weren't a whole lot of reasons to put me somewhere else."
Zobrist is the antithesis of most players' situations since he's been asked to adjust to everyday play rather than being asked to adjust to being a bench player. Zobrist said transitioning from the bench to starting hasn't been that difficult.
"I do the same thing I would normally do," Zobrist said. "Not really making as many adjustments as people might think. To play on the bench and be ready to go into the game all the time, you have to treat it like you're playing every day. I was already treating it like I was playing every day, even though I wasn't, to where when I did get the opportunity, it wasn't that much of a change other than the actual at-bats I got during the game."
Playing every day at second has improved his quality of play at the position.
"Things come to you easier without having to think about them as much," Zobrist said. "You don't have to stay on your mental toes all the time, whereas when you're switching around a lot to different positions, you have to remind yourself what's going on in this situation or that situation like, 'Where am I going to throw the ball if it comes to me?' When you play one position for a long time in a row, you don't have to think about that because it's instinctive. You just go there. You just do it."
Zobrist surely will be the second baseman for the remainder of the current season unless Iwamura makes a dramatic comeback from injury. Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn't discount the idea of Zobrist remaining as the team's starting second baseman.
"If there's one position he could play on a consistent basis, second base or an outfield position seem to be the two best spots to me," Maddon said. "It's not beyond any of my comprehension that he can be a really good everyday second baseman or a really good corner outfielder."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.