KANSAS CITY -- With Jason Bartlett back with the Rays after a stay on the disabled list, manager Joe Maddon envisions an improved defense.
Bartlett started on Thursday, his first game back after missing most of the month because of a sprained right knee. Ben Zobrist was sent down to Triple-A on Wednesday to make room for him on the roster.
"We saw what we looked like when we had all our defense intact and now it's back," Maddon said. "That's one part I really want to see us get back is the air-tight defense. That's when we were able to really reach some heights with wins in close games."
In 1995, Maddon saw firsthand the difference a shortstop can make. He was coaching with the Angels at the time, and Gary DiSarcina injured his thumb sliding into second base. The Angels had a significant lead in the playoff race over the Mariners at the time, but it crumbled when they couldn't find a serviceable replacement.
"It wasn't about our best power hitter or pitcher," Maddon said. "It was about our shortstop. That taught me how great an impact a shortstop can be for the success of your team."
This season, Bartlett has a .967 fielding percentage and has committed just 11 errors in 691 innings.
He was originally scheduled to come back right after the All-Star break, but the Rays decided to let him rest for an additional week. Bartlett is glad they made that decision.
A week ago, he was still having trouble running the bases. Now, his right knee doesn't quite feel perfect, but he said it's in much better shape. Bartlett will have to wear a brace on the knee for an undetermined amount of time.
"There's nothing like game speed," Bartlett said. "So hopefully, everything will be OK."
Maddon said Bartlett is ready for everyday duty and plans to use him in most of the upcoming games. He'll keep a close eye on Bartlett, though, to make sure he doesn't reaggravate the injury.
"One person can make an incredible difference," Maddon said.
Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.