The keys to what Sean Rodriguez hopes and believes will be a successful season are found in his iPad.
They are the notes he began keeping late last season, 10 or so points that break down his swing. Rodriguez turns to them when things don’t feel right at the plate.
“If I’m not feeling something, I look at my notes,” Rodriguez said. “Am I doing this? No. Am I doing this? No. Am I doing this? Yes. OK, let’s look at that. I go down the checklist, and I guarantee there’s something on there.”
The notes are about the only thing Rodriguez wants to take from last season, one where he earned and lost the starting shortstop job, committed a career-high 18 errors and found himself sent to Triple-A Durham in late August. It was in Durham where, after an argument with pitcher Josh Lueke, Rodriguez punched his locker and broke a bone in his right hand.
“I take full responsibility,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Man up. When they sent me down I said, ‘This one is on me. I didn’t put myself in the position to make this decision even harder for you.’?”
There was a point early in the offseason when Rodriguez wondered if he would even be back with the Rays, but he was offered a one-year, $1 million contract to avoid arbitration.
“After what happened in Durham I thought for sure I blew it here,” he said. “I hoped they would give me an opportunity again. At least they’re doing it. I’m very grateful to be here. Every opportunity is a good one, man.”
Rodriguez’s opportunity this season will be to play here, there and everywhere. He played seven positions in 2010 – all but pitcher and catcher – and he expects to play as many as seven positions this season.
He played shortstop Thursday in the Rays’ 4-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field, bringing his total of positions played to five. All that is left are the corner outfield spots.
Rodriguez considers himself the Rays’ third-string emergency catcher, and if manager Joe Maddon needs someone to throw, say the 15th inning of a game during the regular season, you’ll see Rodriguez’s hand raised.
“He’s fine with that,” Maddon said. “He just wants to be here.”
The super-utility role is the one the Rays envisioned for Rodriguez when he joined the club in 2010. Those plans changed when the Rays had trouble finding a replacement for shortstop Jason Bartlett, who was traded to San Diego after the 2010 season.
Rodriguez was given the opportunity to win the everyday job last spring. He did, but quickly found himself in a platoon with Reid Brignac. Rodriguez’s role changed again when third baseman Evan Longoria injured his hamstring April 30.
Now, the Opening Day shortstop was playing third base, a position he hadn’t played since the previous season. It wasn’t long after that when Rodriguez’s season took a turn for the worst.
“I don’t know if Longo being out, he felt like he had to do more, I’m not 100 percent sure,” Maddon said. “Those are the kinds of conversations I don’t really like to have because I don’t want to put thoughts in guys’ heads if they’re not really thinking that, so I want to be careful. I just think he had time getting on a really good role.”
Rodriguez batted .213 for the season. He said the switch to third, where he committed 11 errors, didn’t make him want to produce more as much as it took him out of his comfort zone.
“I should have been ready for it. I wasn’t,” Rodriguez said. “I got a good opportunity. It wasn’t the best. My at-bats speak for themselves. I’m in the position I’m in because I put myself here. But I’m going to scratch and claw my way out of it.”
He feels the key to more playing time is his offense. He believes the notes he took last season will enable him to reach both goals.
“Just put me in the lineup,” Rodriguez said. “If I hit, I’ll stay there. If I hit, they’ll find a spot for me. If you hit, you play. I’m ready. I’m ready to have a good year.”