ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist has struggled at the plate since sitting out a week with lower-back stiffness, something manager Joe Maddon attributed to a non-aggressive approach at the plate and not any lingering effects of the injury.
The switch-hitting utility man is batting just .135 in August, dropping his season average to .259, and at times he has seemed almost too patient at the plate. While that approach has given him the team lead in walks (66) and third-highest on-base percentage (.363), Maddon also thought it has kept him from swinging at hittable pitches.
"He's not inhibited in any way when he swings -- defensively he's been jumping all over the place," Maddon said. "I think it's just the overall approach that he's got to get back to being more aggressive on the fastball.
"He's hit some balls hard, outs, but I think it's more regarding his mental approach than being physically injured."
Zobrist showed some encouraging signs in Monday night's 6-4 win over the Rangers, going 2-for-3 with an RBI single after five straight hitless games. Possibly even more importantly, Zobrist dropped a sacrifice bunt in the fifth that moved two runners into scoring position. Given Zobrist's unselfish, team-first attitude, Maddon thought the bunt may have helped get him back on the right track.
"Zo's the kind of guy who's such a team player, I know he took a lot of satisfaction in that play. It may have done something," Maddon said.
Maddon was also pleased with the RBI single in the eighth, the Rays' fourth run that inning, and took it as a reminder that Zobrist could easily return to the form that had him batting near .300 for much of May and June.
"Zo's going to be fine, but it was nice to see," Maddon said. "It was an aggressive, really good swing that he was taking today. I really enjoyed it."