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Rays outfielders among game's best

Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 04:38 AM

It's a startling statistic at first glance, but one that is not really surprising once you give it some thought: Ben Zobrist has not committed an error in the 253 games he's played in the outfield during his career.

According to Elias, that's the longest streak by an outfielder to begin a career since Darren Lewis played 392 errorless games with the A's and Giants from 1990-94.

"I just think Zo is one of the most fundamentally sound outfielders in the game, period," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I know he's not out there all the time, but if you watch him, how he gets to balls, how he gets rid of balls, and how well he throws, how quickly he dumps it, his positioning, everything he does out there is textbook. And that's the thing I really appreciate about him being out there."

Maddon went on to brag about all his outfielders — left fielder Desmond Jennings, center fielder B.J. Upton and right fielder Matt Joyce, who platoons with Zobrist in right field. Add the injured Sam Fuld and Maddon said he will take his outfielders over any other crew in the major leagues.

"I do believe it is one of the best I've seen," Maddon said. "You talk about range, arms, fundamental soundness and the fact that they're still pretty young. It's a group that rivals among the best in all of baseball."

It's interesting to note that both Upton and Zobrist began their professional careers as shortstops. Upton made stops at third base and second base before replacing the injured Rocco Baldelli in center field in 2007.

Zobrist became a player of many positions in 2008 as a means of getting his bat in the lineup. After making the 2009 All-Star Game as what Maddon called a "super utility" player, he has settled into playing second base and right field.

Both Upton and Zobrist had to learn to play the outfield at the major-league level, and both have learned to play it well. Maddon said Zobrist's years of playing shortstop has served him well as an outfielder.

"I think based on where he was trained in the infield, the footwork involved, and you know Zo, he's going to listen and then he's going to try and apply everything you asked him to apply," Maddon said. "So I think that's a big part of it, too, his ability to process information and go ahead and do something with it. Because he really is fundamentally (sound).

"If you want to make a video in regards to fundamentally how to (play the outfield), I would put him on it, right at the very top."

And if you were to watch that video, pay close attention to Zobrist's footwork.

"Zo, his feet are so good," Maddon said. "There's a lot of times you can watch a guy who's been playing outfield for 10 years and his feet are not right when he goes to catch a ground ball and get into a position to throw. It drives me crazy to watch a guy who plays that long have poor footwork when he throws.

"(Zobrist's) footwork is perfect when he throws from the outfield. And that's why he throws it straight and on line and has something on it."

rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227

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