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Rays

Zobrist getting back into the zone

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:28 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

You trust the process and go 0-for-4 with a strikeout. You come back the next day still trusting the process and leave the stadium after another hitless game.

On another night you came to bat in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and your team down a run. You've singled during your previous at-bat so you have that going for you. Then you swing at the first pitch and bounce into an inning-ending double play.

What do you do now?

If you're Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, you continue to trust the process that made you an All-Star and a productive hitter on some very good teams.

"That's part of why I love this game. It's always a challenge. It's never easy. It's not something where you walk in and it's already done. No, you got to stay on it," he said.

Zobrist has been in hitting funks before. He battled his way out of those by trusting his process, he'll battle his way out of this one just like he'll battle his way out of the next one and the one after that. He knows he's not immune to batting slumps.

"Everybody does," he said, "that's why players in this game are mentally tough because you fail … a lot."

Zobrist was failing – a lot – when the Rays reached Yankee Stadium at the start of the last road trip. A pair of hitless games dropped his batting average to .199, so Zobrist reported for early batting practice before the third game and worked on using his hands more.

When Zobrist is going good it's because he is using his hands properly. He can wait and wait on a pitch knowing he can spring into action when he decides it is a pitch he wants to hit.

"When you feel like you can't see the ball then you swing at all sorts of junk," he said before Thursday's game against the Yankees. "I've seen good pitches lately. It's just a matter of getting my swing back to when I see it and I say go, my swing does what it's supposed to do."

Zobrist drove in a run that night with a single that ended an 0-for-9 start to the trip. He came out of his slump in a big way over the weekend in Miami, going 7-for-11 with two home runs, five RBI and five runs scored.

He takes a .223 average and a .352 on-base percentage into tonight's game with the visiting New York Mets that begins a six-game homestand for the first place Rays.

The Rays certainly could use a productive Zobrist in the batting order. His 40 walks are third in the American League, so he still has been able to find his way to first base. But the lineup needs the Ben Zobrist that rifles doubles into the gab and drives balls over the wall.

As Zobrist mentioned, baseball is game built on failure for a hitter. Those who fail seven out of 10 times are .300 hitters and looked upon as big bats in the lineup. Those who fail eight out of 10 times are viewed as a big out in the lineup.

"You have to really battle to fail seven-and-a-half times out of 10 and then to get to the point where you're failing seven out of 10 times," he said. "It's a battle, because those guys on the mound know what they're doing."

What makes it frustrating for Zobrist is when he helps the pitchers do their job, when he allows the mistakes to creep into his swing, when he doesn't use his hands properly and leads with his body and twists himself into a funk.

"One thing this game teaches you is you have to learn from mistakes," he said. "You learn and you move forward, and you learn from a new mistake and you move forward and you learn again and you learn again until finally you get to the point where you're constantly taking care of that mistake. You consistently know what you have to do to keep that out of the picture. Then a new one comes up."


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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