Johnson not changing his style

Johnson not changing his style

ST. PETERSBURG -- After being on the cover of three New York tabloids Sunday morning following his controversial collision at home plate, Rays second baseman Elliot Johnson stood by his decision Wednesday morning before the Rays faced the Yankees.

"It is what it is, there's nothing you can do," said Johnson of the home-plate collision that fractured Yankees prospect Francisco Cervelli's wrist.

Johnson, who wasn't in the starting lineup, didn't plan on doing anything different in Wednesday's game at Progress Energy Park, either.

When asked whether he will speak with any of the Yankees, Johnson said, "Only if I get on base. I don't know any of those guys, and they don't know me personally."

As for questions about whether it was too aggressive a play for Spring Training, Johnson was equally admissive.

"I've always been a hard-nosed player," he said. "Maybe a few more people know it now, but I've always considered myself a hard-nosed player."

So do the Rays, who have given Johnson a long, hard look in Spring Training, especially with utility infielder Ben Zobrist out with a fractured thumb.

With Zobrist expected to miss about four weeks, Johnson took ground balls at shortstop Wednesday morning, working with third-base coach Tom Foley.

While Rays manager Joe Maddon admits having Johnson on the left side of the infield wasn't the "original plan," he is considering all options.

"He's a very good athlete and I think there's a lot of positions that he could play," Maddon said. "I want him to become more involved defensively, because this guy is very gifted, you can see that."

The 24-year-old has also strived to become more efficient at the plate. Going into Spring Training, the Rays were concerned about his high number of strikeouts and "swing for the fences" mentality.

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The point was duly noted by Johnson, who has whiffed only twice in 18 at-bats and is batting .500 through eight games this spring.

Equally impressive has been the infielder's poise off the field. Maddon said Wednesday morning he is proud of the way Johnson reacted to the harsh criticism and firestorm surrounding Saturday's collision.

"He's handled himself extremely well, and I've told him so," Maddon said. "He's out here playing hardball every day and that's what he's all about."

And with Zobrist and potential backup Andy Cannizaro both sidelined, Johnson said playing hard is exactly what he will continue to do.

"I'm getting a lot more opportunities, so I've got to be grateful that they keep letting me go out there and play," he said.

"That's what it's all about, the opportunities, and if you get lucky enough, you might just slide in somewhere."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.