Maddon praises Zobrist's defensive acumen
Left fielder makes two clutch throws to snuff out Orioles rallies
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist has started all but 43 games at second base this season for the Rays and didn't bother checking the lineup when it initially went up Monday morning at Tropicana Field.
As it turned out, manager Joe Maddon had Zobrist in left field for Tampa Bay's 5-4 win over Baltimore, where the do-everything utility man had made only two other starts this season, a domino effect of center fielder Desmond Jennings' left hamstring strain.
"I knew Zo would not be bothered whatsoever about playing left field," Maddon said. "Some guys would be. He would not. I told [third-base coach Tom Foley], 'Go in there and make sure Zo knows he's playing left field.' I would bet that he came in thinking he's playing second base, and Zo didn't realize it."
The message got to Zobrist about an hour before first pitch, not enough time to put in additional defensive work. Zobrist didn't need it, as he made two defensive plays that saved the game.
"Ben Zobrist playing left field won today's game," Maddon said. "Zo's defense won today's game. Period."
Zobrist threw Alexi Casilla out at the plate to end the seventh inning, halting the Orioles from taking a three-run lead. In the eighth, Zobrist turned what looked to be a leadoff triple from Matt Wieters into an out by playing a double off the wall and teaming with shortstop Yunel Escobar's tag to throw Wieters out at third base.
Ever the team player, Zobrist refused to take Maddon's credit.
"That's nice of him to say that, but all the way around the field, everybody played a great game," Zobrist said. "I'm just glad to contribute. They don't always run, but when they do, it's fun to do what you can."
Zobrist, now in his eighth year with the Rays, has played every defensive position but pitcher and catcher and never has a problem with moving around.
"After I've had a certain amount of time at a position, I feel pretty comfortable," Zobrist said. "Especially moving infield to outfield, I feel comfortable. It's a lot harder to move from the outfield to the infield. They knew they could throw me out there and I'd be fine."
Maddon noted that he's been around "a lot of good players" who can't move around the diamond like Zobrist, but in the end, he does it with one thing on his mind.
"It's about us winning," Maddon said. "That's it."
Sam Strong is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.