Notes: Zobrist understands pressure

Notes: Zobrist knows importance of solid play

ST. PETERSBURG -- Even though Ben Zobrist is penciled in as the starting shortstop for the Devil Rays, he doesn't feel much different than he has at the beginning of Spring Trainings past.

"Honestly, it doesn't feel that much different, because going into last year I had a pretty good indication I was going to be the starting shortstop at Double-A," Zobrist said. "So, now, it's just kind of on a bigger scale, I guess. But there weren't people interviewing me about it."

However, there is one major difference.

"I wasn't feeling like I was fighting for a job," Zobrist said. "Now I feel that a little bit more. I feel like I definitely need to show up and perform well. I think everybody does, basically, to get their spot, but I guess it kind of feels the same as far as working out goes. I just feel confident about what I can do. I just go out like everybody else and prepare. This is a time of preparation for when that first game hits."

Zobrist took over at shortstop beginning in August last season and found that he needed to find a happy medium between being too selective and too aggressive. Zobrist's combined 2006 numbers at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Durham saw him draw 65 walks and strike out 54 times in 374 at-bats while hitting .332. But for the Rays he drew just 10 walks and struck out 26 times in 183 at-bats while hitting .224.

Hoping to makes strides in finding a balance between being over-aggressive and too selective, Zobrist took part in the Arizona Fall League.

"There were some things I wanted to make sure stayed the same with my swing," Zobrist said. "After Arizona, I felt real confident about that. That's the first time the swing has stayed the same for that long of a period, over the offseason and everything. Those are the main things with hitting, but I feel like my body's in a lot better shape and ready to handle what I need to handle."

Rays hitting instructor Steve Henderson has been working with Zobrist to "get him a little more aggressive."

"He's got a good eye, and that's good, I don't have a problem with that," Henderson said. "The problem is, I saw it the last part of the year, he gets to two strikes really quick because he takes so many pitches -- which is good if you're comfortable hitting with two strikes, which he wasn't. So he went to Arizona, he worked on it.

"He got a little bit better. I don't want to see him over-aggressive, but when you get a ball up in the zone, make good contact. Because he works the count good, I've got no problem with that. It's not about being aggressive. It's about being aggressive and selective. I mean, get a ball in that zone and when you get it, attack it."

Intrasquad action: The Rays will conduct intrasquad games on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday morning's game will be a seven-inning contest beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET featuring 14 pitchers, each of whom will pitch one inning. Wednesday's game will be a six-inning affair in which 12 pitchers will each pitch an inning.

"Strike-throwing is going to be a big thing," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "A big thing last year was we walked too many people."

Jim Hoff and Charlie Montoyo will manage the two teams.

Tuesday's pitchers will be: Gary Glover, Scott Dohmann, Ruddy Lugo, J.P. Howell, Juan Salas, Chris Seddon, Andy Sonnanstine, Shawn Camp, Tim Corcoran, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Steve Andrade, Tony Peguero and Mitch Talbot.

Wednesday's pitchers will include: Scott Kazmir, Al Reyes, Seth McClung, Jon Switzer, Brian Stokes, Jeff Ridgway, Dan Miceli, Jae Seo, Chad Orvella, James Shields, Jae Kuk Ryu and Jeff Niemann.

Outfield, too: Maddon said the team's utility infielder has to be able to play shortstop.

"That's a given," Maddon said. "And furthermore, if that guy can play the outfield, even better."

Obviously, B.J. Upton has had a lot of experience at shortstop, and he is also working in the outfield this spring. Brendan Harris is the other candidate. He has played shortstop in the past and is open-minded about the outfield.

"I talked to [Harris] about [playing the outfield] when we had the infielder's meeting," Maddon said. "He said he's done it. He can do it, but he'd like some work. But he's OK with it. We've already broached that subject. He's a neat kid, isn't he? Talk about good face. There's good face. He's got great face."

This and that: Friday's Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees at Progress Energy Park is sold out. ... The Sixth Annual Rays Charity Golf Classic Powered by Progress Energy is set for Wednesday is sold out. ... Stuart Sternberg will be in camp Tuesday. The principal owner of the Rays will be in town to speak at a Community Leader Forum at the University Club in downtown Tampa. ... The Rays and outfielder Carl Crawford will make a special announcement concerning youth league baseball in West Tampa on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at the West Tampa Little League Complex. Speakers and special guests will include Tampa mayor Pam Iorio, Rays president Matt Silverman and Crawford.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.