CINCINNATI -- Ben Zobrist has been hot and cold this season, and it's not just his batting average. He warms up before each game by soaking for about five minutes in 106-degree water. After the game, the Cubs' versatile veteran completes a stretching routine, and then cools off in a 57-degree cold tub.
He started the routine in Tampa Bay to deal with the turf there, and it's paying off now as he hopes to lead the Cubs deep into the postseason.
On Friday, Zobrist belted two home runs, a solo shot leading off the fifth and a two-run blast in the eighth for the seventh multi-homer game of his career, to help Chicago post a 7-3 victory over Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park.
Manager Joe Maddon knows Zobrist well. They were together with Tampa Bay, and Maddon credits Zobrist's recent friskiness at the plate to being rested.
"R-E-S-T-E-D, that's what it means to me," Maddon said. "The everyday Major League player, people have no idea how difficult that is to do. Plus, he's 35. That's not easy. With the everyday guy, you have to get them off their feet. It's hard to replicate and be that consistent every day -- we're just talking hitting now. ... The way we got to this particular point has been wonderful so we can provide these guys a chance to refuel their tanks."
The Cubs clinched the National League Central in mid-September, and they have had the luxury of giving the regulars breathers so they are fresh when the playoffs begin. Chicago opens the NL Division Series on Oct. 7 at home against the winner of the Wild Card Game. Zobrist wants to be ready.
"Sometimes, you just feel like you're just surviving for parts of the season," Zobrist said. "The last couple weeks, knowing that we've clinched, and knowing some of these games weren't going to matter all that much, I definitely tried to make a concerted effort to maintain an element of competitiveness and try to have good quality at-bats and not cash anything in. I think everybody in the clubhouse is trying to do that now. I'm consistently making adjustments. You're going to have to do that in the postseason, too."
Zobrist is feeling much better now than he did earlier this season. In May, he was batting .406 with a .483 on-base percentage, but those numbers dipped the next three months, and he hit .221 in June, .212 in July and .270 in August. Zobrist believes in the power of rest.
"I think all of our guys -- if not physically, mentally at least -- you feel you can take a little breather, and that helps at this time of year," Zobrist said. "You're not having to press or push. We're trying to stay in that competitive frame of mind and go out and play good baseball and get ready for next Friday."
Zobrist credits Rays athletic trainer Ron Porterfield with his soaking routine.
"I was open to how I could be more rested, and we talked about the turf," Zobrist said. "We would come off the road, and I would feel great, and we'd be home for four days in a row, and my body would start hurting, and they said, 'That's the turf.'"
Porterfield suggested the stretching and soaking pre- and postgame, and it's worked, though it does take some getting used to.
"Neither of them are really comfortable," Zobrist said of his dips. "It tells your body what to be ready for. When you get used to it, I think it helps you. It really does make a difference for me, anyway."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.