Zobrist's injury opens up backup spot

Zobrist's injury opens up backup spot

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist is out for four weeks, which leaves the Rays pondering who will be their backup shortstop during the first part of the season.

Zobrist, who had been juggling different positions this spring in hopes of becoming a "super utility" player, suffered a hairline fracture of the tip of his left thumb while sliding into second base during Sunday afternoon's game against the Reds. His thumb is now in a cast.

"Zoey was doing a great job," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "For me, he was really arriving at that point where a guy feels like he belongs. I saw that with Zoey going on right now."

Maddon said Zobrist was playing all of the positions well.

"And also he was swinging the bat really well," Maddon added. "So it's a step back for us right now, but we're going to try and figure out how to get it done."

Zobrist was hitting .421 (8-for-19) in eight games.

Critical to the super utility role was Zobrist's ability to back up at shortstop and second base.

"We need a shortstop, because if it were to happen that we give [starting shortstop Jason Bartlett] a day off, you need a legitimate shortstop out there," Maddon said. "It's going to open up a possibility for somebody else. ... That is a question we're going to have to research the next couple of days."

Without having Zobrist until at least April 11, Andy Cannizaro appears to be the early favorite.

"Of course Andy is a definite candidate and he's had a very good spring," said Maddon of Cannizaro, who is hitting .308 with a home run and four RBIs this spring. "And I like this young man a lot. He's very bright. He plays the game the right way. ... I would say Andy has a pretty good feel for the position already."

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Another possibility for the role, though more of a remote possibility, is highly touted shortstop prospect Reid Brignac. Normally, a prospect of Brignac's stature would not be used for any sort of utility role. But given the fact he would miss roughly two weeks of everyday play before heading back to Triple-A Durham where he is earmarked to play every day, makes such a scenario seem more feasible.

Prior to Tuesday's game against the Twins in Fort Myers, Brignac said he would embrace such an opportunity.

"Absolutely," Brignac said. "If that's what it comes down to, I'll be very ready for whatever option comes up. I want to play every day. But if they need me to be a utility guy for a couple of weeks, I'd be more than happy to help them out, get my at-bats here and there, be a back up at second and short."

Brignac said he felt for Zobrist.

"But that's how it goes some time; when somebody goes down with an injury, somebody else has to be there ready to step up for that opportunity," said Brignac, who was slowed by a broken little toe on his right foot early this spring. "I wish the best for Zoey. I hope he gets back as soon as he can."

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