ANAHEIM, Calif. — The head-first slide is not the problem, Ben Zobrist said Thursday. It’s when he swings his arm to try to avoid the tag that gets him in trouble. He has tried that twice, and both times it earned him a trip to the disabled list.
The latest, of course, occurred Wednesday, when Zobrist dislocated the top knuckle on his left thumb.
The Tampa Bay Rays placed Zobrist on the 15-day DL before Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Infielder Cole Figueroa was summoned to take Zobrist’s spot on the roster.
“That’s probably the safer approach than trying to push it and have an unstable joint trying to come back earlier than 15 days,” Zobrist said. “It’s probably the smart decision.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Ron Porterfield, the team’s head athletic trainer, believes Zobrist will likely miss two to three weeks. Zobrist said that will likely be the time frame for his return.
“Some guys play on it after a week. Some guys don’t play on it until after three weeks, so it could take longer than 15 days, but right now that’s what we’re shooting for,” he said.
With Zobrist out, Maddon said Sean Rodriguez, Logan Forsythe and Figueroa will share time at second base.
Maddon said it might not be a straight right-handed/left-handed platoon. Rodriguez and Forsythe hit right-handed; Figueroa bats left-handed.
Zobrist is batting .260 with a .352 on-base percentage and a team-leading 23 walks. He will be missed in the lineup for many reasons.
“He’s a regular part of a heartbeat,” Maddon said. “He’s the guy that puts you back in a normal rhythm at times. It’s no fun, but we’ve had to go through these moments before. Some of our best years, we’ve had to go through a lot of adversity early with injuries.”
As a switch-hitter, Zobrist gives Maddon flexibility to move players around when he fills out his daily lineup. That Zobrist can play shortstop and the outfield gives Maddon more late-inning options with the players on the bench.
“So that’s the part, also, that is missed,” Maddon said. “All the different things he brings to the table. It’s no fun. Other teams have their problems, too. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We just got to keep pushing.”
That’s one reason Figueroa, who was not on the 40-man roster, received his first call to the big leagues. That Figueroa can play three infield positions adds a fielder to the bench.
“This provides a little more comfort,” Maddon said.
Zobrist is the latest big-leaguer to injure his thumb while sliding head first. He joins Josh Hamilton and Bryce Harper, among others. Zobrist said he was fortunate to escape with only a dislocation.
“I was definitely relieved,” Zobrist said. “I knew it was dislocated when I looked at it. I was relieved that it wasn’t broken, too, because I knew if it was dislocated and broken there was a chance of surgery. Especially when they couldn’t get it back in place, the last thing I wanted was to wait around a day with my thumb sticking out for a surgery that’s going to make me be out for six weeks or longer. I was relieved it was dislocated and has to take three weeks to heal.”
Zobrist also said he will continue to slide head first.
“I slid head first a lot, a whole lot in my career, and every time I slid normally head first (both hands straight out), I’ve been safe. Not safe on the play, but as far as not getting hurt. The only two times I tried to avoid a tag diving head first are the two times I hurt myself. For me, it’s not a matter of sliding head first, it’s trying to do something crazy.”
The first time was in spring training 2008, when Zobrist broke the bone at the tip of his left thumb, an injury that cost him a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Zobrist said he might join Desmond Jennings in wearing something on his hand to protect his fingers and thumb when sliding head first.
“Yeah, probably with a oven mitt on my hand,” Zobrist said.