BOSTON — Sean Rodriguez leads the Rays in home runs, and he wants more. He leads the major leagues in RBIs per at-bat, and he wants more.
Rodriguez wants to be an everyday player, preferably a middle infielder. Actually, a shortstop.
He once was an everyday shortstop in the big leagues. But that didn’t last too long.
Now, he moves from position to position, infield to outfield, and bats up and down the order.
And he’s never been more productive at the plate.
Rodriguez has six home runs as the Rays begin a weekend series tonight against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He has 20 RBIs. Not exactly jump-off-the-page numbers until you consider this: He has only 78 at-bats.
His at-bat per RBI ratio of 3.9 is tops in the majors among players with at least 75 at-bats. He has this to show for his past 11 at-bats: two home runs, a double, a triple and nine RBIs.
Rodriguez offered two reasons for his production despite the limited opportunities: Hitting coach Derek Shelton and assistant hitting coach Jamie Nelson.
“They’ve been able to point out and harp on a lot of key things,” Rodriguez said.
“I’d rather not get into specifics,” Rodriguez said, “because there’s a lot.”
The Cliffs Notes version goes like this: Rodriguez joined the organization late in the 2009 season from the Anaheim Angels as the player-to-be-named-later in the Scott Kazmir trade. The Rays liked his versatility, his glove, his power and his speed. They also liked his work ethic, which Rodriguez gets from his dad, a minor-league baseball manager.
“One of the things he’s really done better at is he used to work and work and work, which is kind of the qualities of a coach’s son,” Shelton said. “But I think he’s now found the difference between working to work and working for the process.”
Also, sticking with the process.
Rodriguez had as many approaches at the plate as gloves in his locker — infielder, outfielder, first baseman’s mitt, catcher’s mitt. Problem was, he never stayed with one approach long enough for it to take root.
He does now.
Manager Joe Maddon said Rodriguez has matured as a baseball player. Rodriguez agrees.
Rodriguez also said he is more patient and is more prepared.
“Trusting the preparation,” Rodriguez said. “Really trusting the preparation.”
Maddon said Rodriguez might someday become an everyday player with an everyday position. Right now, Rodriguez’s worth to the team is his ability to move around the field and provide Maddon with lineup flexibility.
“Sometimes, some guys may argue that it gets in the way, but for a guy like him, that versatility keeps them in the major leagues while he’s developing all these different skills,” Maddon said. “Primarily the skill of working good at-bats and moving the baseball, handling righties better, all that’s coming along.”
When he’s not playing, Rodriguez spends time in the batting cage with Nelson or watching video of the relievers he might face in the later innings.
When he is playing, Rodriguez has developed this knack for the impact moment.
“He’s gotten huge hits for us. He’s won games for us. He’s separated us in games,” Shelton said. “He’s at a point now where he trusts what he’s doing mechanically.”
And, still, Rodriguez wants more. He’s working toward the day when he’s stripped of the “super utility” title and handed a more mundane one, like shortstop or second baseman.
“I always had the mindset of, I know what I’m capable of, I know what I can do,” Rodriguez said. “With God’s will, the opportunity will present itself that I absolutely have no doubt I can be the everyday guy that I plan and dream to be and have no doubt I can be.
“But at the same time, you come to the field every day and I think, ‘How am I going to contribute to a win today? How am I going to contribute to the team today?’ It’s simple. If I’m in there every day, let’s go. If it’s coming off the bench, so be it. If it’s playing first (base), pinch-running, pinch-bunting, whatever it is, you got to contribute to the win today.”