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Rays friends Brignac, Rodriguez in battle at shortstop

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 03:18 PM
PORT CHARLOTTE -

Tuesday was set aside for the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catchers. Morning physicals, a meeting with manager Joe Maddon on Field 1, then on to the first workout of the spring.

Moving among the pitchers and catchers in the Rays clubhouse at the Charlotte Sports Complex that morning were Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez, a pair of position players whose first official workout was still five days away.

Yet there they were, dressed and ready for some baseball.

It seems the competition for shortstop has already begun.

"It's baseball season," Brignac said. "There's nothing else I want to do."

The two are friends. They spent Tuesday afternoon at the Port Charlotte house Brignac is renting. They often grab lunch together during regular season road trips.

"We're friends. This competition will not change that. Might make us stronger friends," Brignac said. "He's got my back, I got his. We're just going to go out and play and let (the team) handle all that."

By "all that," Brignac means which of the two begins the season as the Opening Day shortstop.

It was Brignac's job out of camp last April, but he struggled at the plate and couldn't keep a fulltime hold on the role. Rodriguez, who started at all four infield spots in 2011, was the primary shortstop during the Rays' September run to the American League wild card.

Maddon announced the current competition as far back as December's winter meetings. He said the winner won't necessarily be the one with the higher batting average this spring, though an increase in offense by either of the two candidates would be looked upon as a plus.

"A lot of it has to do with under-the-hood kind of stuff, actually," Maddon said.

Basically, the winner will be the one who can best harness all his skills – defense, base running, offense – and become what Maddon termed a "complete baseball player."

"Put it into play every day, make it more consistent," Rodriguez said. "This team is built on pitching and defense. Reid's obviously proven he's an unbelievable shortstop. Joe always said I'm great at second. Maybe it's just me proving I can do it on that side, too. Then maybe offense comes into play."

Competing against each other is nothing new. Both battled during March 2010 for a roster spot, and Brignac viewed himself in competition last spring with Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson at shortstop.

"I've been in this spot for three years now," Brignac said. "There's been a competition for a spot every year I've come to spring training."

Rodriguez said this typifies his professional career.

"It's another fight I have to fight," he said. "I look at it as an opportunity, an opportunity I've been waiting for."

So while the pitchers and catchers headed for the backfields Tuesday morning, Brignac and Rodriguez headed for Field 5, which sits by itself in the shadow of the big stadium, and continued a competition that began as soon as each resumed their offseason workouts.

Both want the job. Both are going to fight hard to win the job. And both feel the Rays will be a better team no matter who wins because each will push the other's game to new heights.

"This is how the team is built. It's camaraderie over individuals," Rodriguez said. "Can you win as individuals? Sure. But it's more fun to win as a team. It should be the guy who's going to give the team the best chance to win."

Said Brignac: "The whole reason why we're here is to win games, right? So (Maddon is) going to put the best team out there on a daily basis. Yes, I want to be the starting shortstop. If not, it's OK, because we want to win and I want to do whatever I can to help this team be successful. We got a chance to go to the playoffs and the World Series this year and do something pretty historic. I want to be a part of that any way possible."

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