Zobrist heating up after slow start

Zobrist heating up after slow start

ST. PETERSBURG -- After a sluggish start, Ben Zobrist has come around at the plate quickly.

The switch-hitting utility man ended April with a .241 batting average, .327 on-base percentage and .356 slugging percentage -- disappointing numbers after a career year in 2009. It has been a completely different story for Zobrist at the plate this month, however, as he is batting .387 (29-for-75) in May, fifth-best in the Major Leagues, with a .449 on-base percentage and .533 slugging percentage. He has gotten on base in all but three games this month, and he drove in the game-tying run in the eighth inning in one of those three.

"I thought he was pressing. I thought he was getting pitched at differently as well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He had a really good last year that garnered some MVP votes, made the All-Star team. So they've been coming after him differently. I think he's finally made the adjustments. He's not expanding his strike zone."

In his past 28 plate appearances heading into Monday, Zobrist was 13-for-21 with six walks, two doubles, two home runs, a sacrifice fly, two stolen bases and seven RBIs. The two home runs have come in the last four games, as he hit his first of the year on the road against the Yankees on Thursday.

Over the last six games alone, Zobrist raised his on-base percentage from .338 to .385, his slugging percentage from .360 to .438 and his batting average from .266 to .309.

Maddon said the biggest problem for Zobrist at the beginning of the year was his expanded strike zone, so his recent success hasn't come as a shock at all.

"I was surprised, more than anything, that he was swinging at pitches that he normally does not," Maddon said. "He's always been that guy. He's always been an organized strike zone guy.

"Zo had gotten away from it, he's gotten back to it. I'd like to think he's going to maintain it for the rest of the season. If he does, his numbers are going to come up dramatically."