UTL Ben Zobrist knew he would play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic for some time, and because of that, he's already accelerated his offseason routine.
Zobrist knows he will be playing meaningful, playoff-type games in the middle of March, as opposed to a normal spring when he would get his three or four at-bats in a Grapefruit League game than call it a day.
That won't be the case as Team USA tries with win the world title.
"Since I've known I've certainly taking note of the fact that I'll need to be game-ready a little earlier than normal," Zobrist said. "Because of that I'm taking measures to make sure my swing is, you can't ever prepare for the actual at-bats, but I'm trying to ramp up the speed of my swing earlier than I normally would."
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said his one concern about position players competing in the WBC is they would not receive the necessary at-bats as they would during a typical spring. Also, being a switch-hitter, Zobrist might not receive the same amount of at-bats from both sides of the plate as he would if was with the Rays for the entire month.
Zobrist said he doesn't think that will be an issue it comes to Opening Day.
"If you look at my career start of the season a certain number of at-bats in spring training doesn't necessarily transfer to a good start to the season for me," Zobrist said. "I think it's more about not the number of at-bats, but getting the feel of your swing as quickly as possible in the season. So I'm hopeful that I'll find that feel early on and continue on as opposed to last year when it took me a long time to get it. I was kind of fighting through some mechanical issues with my swing and I felt like I corrected that in June of last year and I feel like I'm replicating that through the course of the winter."
Traditionally, Zobrist is a slow starter. He is a career .229 hitter in March/April with a career .310 on-base percentage and career .445 slugging percentage.
The numbers improve in May – .276/.371/.461.
His best month of the season is June where those numbers are .299/.409/.508 – the highest across the board for any month of the season.
Zobrist got off to a slow start in 2012, batting .205 in April and .202 in May.
Zobrist was hitting below .200 during a trip to Yankee Stadium in early June when he had a long talk with Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton after another 0-for-4 night. Things turned around from there. His one hit the next night against the Yankees was the start of a 6-game hitting streak as he responded with a .344/.443/.578 month.
Looking for arms, bats
The search for more relief pitchers and one or two more bats continues.
RHP Kyle Farnsworth, now a free agent, is still a possibility. ESPN's Jayson Stark thinks Tampa Bay would be a good spot for free agent center fielder Michael Bourn.
"We certainly don't need to do anything," Friedman said. "We feel comfortable with the guys that we have in house. But that being said, obviously we'd like to continue to get better. By doing that, we also add more depth, which is a good thing."
Friedman said signing free agents is a more likely scenario than trades.
Friedman was asked if they don't do anything position-wise, would that leave them a little short?
"It depends if you wanted to rotate. You probably need a DH," he said. "Point is, there's a scenario where you have one position player who's not a DH and you just rotate a bunch of guys through to get them off their feet, and then there's scenarios where you add a more traditional DH."
Senior advisor Don Zimmer, who turned 82 on Jan. 17, will not be a regular at spring training this year. Nightly dialysis treatment will prevent him from staying in Port Charlotte for the duration of camp. But Zimmer, who will embark on his 65th year in baseball, said he plans to visit the team as often as he can … INF Sean Rodriguez and his wife, Giselle, welcomed their third child last week – a girl, whom they have yet to name. "I'm a proud Papa of three," Rodriguez said.