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Friday, April 29, 2011
Berthiaume: Zobrist carries Rays

By Steve Berthiaume


Attention major league pitchers: Stop throwing Ben Zobrist fastballs. Try more changeups. Thursday, Minnesota Twins pitchers threw Zobrist primarily fastballs through two games of a day-night doubleheader at Target Field, and Zobrist annihilated them. Zobrist went 7-for-10 in the two games with two homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs. In the first game alone, Zobrist drove in eight runs -- a Rays' record.

Zobrist became only the fourth player to record at least seven hits and 10 RBIs in the same day and just the fifth player since 1993 to record double-digit RBIs in one day. Not since Aug. 31, 2009, when Toronto's Adam Lind went 3-for-5 with eight RBIs in an 18-10 win at Texas, had a player driven in at least eight runs in a game. Lind's production that day came in bunches: a grand slam in the fourth inning followed by a home run and three-run double in the ninth. Zobrist's destruction of the Twins was in some ways more diabolical, almost relentless, and the Twins were partly responsible.

Ben Zobrist
Ben Zobrist signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Rays after his All-Star season in 2009.
Before Thursday, Zobrist had seen 77 changeups this season and put only six in play, for one base hit. Tampa Bay hitting coach Derek Shelton has been working with Zobrist on his adjustments to changeups. Despite his record of struggling with the pitch, Zobrist saw only six changeups in Thursday's first game and did not put a single one in play. He did, however, crush just about everything else.

In that first game according to the ESPN Stats & Information group, Zobrist went 4-for-6 against fastballs with a home run, double and eight RBIs. Zobrist began the day hitting only .247 and slugging .391 against fastballs, so there was no reason the Twins should have feared throwing him the pitch. Now, Zobrist might not see another fastball before the All-Star break. He's filled the void left by Evan Longoria, who went on the disabled list April 3 with a left oblique strain. Tampa Bay's current run of 12 wins in 15 games has made its 1-8 start a distant memory, and Zobrist's contribution only underscores his value to the Rays.

Zobrist signed a four-year, $18 million contract with Tampa Bay following his All-Star season in 2009, when he hit .297/.405/.543 and had 27 home runs, 91 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Those numbers and his ability to provide value at multiple defensive positions gave Zobrist a Wins Above Replacement rating of 8.4, second in the majors to Albert Pujols. Zobrist's WAR dropped to 3.4 last season, when his production slumped to .238/.346/.353. Now he's rolling again.

Last Friday at Toronto, he went 0-for-5 and was hitting .183. Since then, Zobrist is a sizzling 11-for-22 with 18 RBIs, lifting his batting average up to .258, and his 25 RBIs lead the majors. The Angels visit St. Petersburg this weekend and will start Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro in the first two games. It's Pineiro's first start of the season after his activation from the disabled list. Sunday, we'll see Zobrist face Jered Weaver, who's been the majors' best pitcher. Should be fun. As much fun as driving in 10 runs in a day.

Follow Steve on Twitter @SBerthiaumeESPN.