Rays to mainly use Burrell in DH role

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The fact that Pat Burrell was in left field instead of right really wasn't what mattered. Just him being in the outfield registered as noteworthy Sunday afternoon in Clearwater.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon and Burrell had told reporters on Saturday that Burrell would be in right field Sunday when the Rays met his former team, the Phillies. The audible came when both parties looked at which players were making the trip to Clearwater, and they came to the conclusion that since Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay's everyday left-fielder, was not making the trip and a host of right fielders were, that Burrell would be better off in left Sunday.

Burrell's one opportunity in the game was a routine fly ball that he caught.

"It felt fine," said Burrell, the Rays' designated hitter who played just two games in the field in 2009. "Once I got out there and started moving around, I felt pretty comfortable."

Burrell struggled at the plate in 2009, his first with the Rays, and he spent the offseason getting in shape for '10 while also thinking about ways to help him get back his mojo. While he has not complained about being a designated hitter, nor has he used his being a DH as an excuse, it appears to have been an adjustment for the veteran slugger.

"I think it's hard to find a way to simulate the game if you're not in it," Burrell said. "And I didn't have a problem finding ways to stay active during the game at all last year. I just have to find a way to swing better, find a way to be a bigger factor on this team. I think with a year under my belt in this role, [I understand] the league a little bit better. Some more experience is only going to help."

While he would like to play in the field more, Burrell said that's up to the Rays and he'll do whatever the club calls upon him to do.

"I'd like to create as many options for them if I can, if playing in the outfield is an option," Burrell said. "But if it's not, it's not. It goes down to just committing to the role. I knew what to expect. I think this year will be a much better year in terms of that. ... Spring Training's one thing, but once the season starts, you realize how much time there is some days between at-bats.

"You have to find a way to fill that time and still stay up to speed with the game. That doesn't sound that difficult, but it can be at times. With a year of experience, kind of knowing what to expect, I think it will help."

Burrell sounded realistic when assessing his outfield abilities.

"I wasn't one of the outfielders who covered a whole bunch of ground to begin with," Burrell said. "I just tried to make sure I made the plays I could and hit the cutoff man and try not to make any mistakes, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to cover as much ground as some of the other guys. All you have to do is watch Carl Crawford play and B.J. [Upton]. These guys are as gifted athletically as you're going to find. They're the reason why I wasn't playing last year.

"It's all about just making the plays. If that's going to happen, I need to get in some games and play. And I'm more than happy to do that."
If Burrell does not play any games in the field during the regular season, he said he will be committed to the DH role, and feels the 2010 season will be more productive for him.

"Last year, I just didn't have a very easy time [being the DH]," Burrell said. "But like I've said, I'm confident about this year. I feel like I'm in a much better place physically and mentally as far as knowing what to expect from the role. The routines of it and stuff like that, the different ballparks."

Maddon is pleased that Burrell is eager to get out in the field and said he will likely use him in left during a split-squad game March 11. But the manager's intentions for Burrell are clear.

"We'll get him out there," Maddon said. "But the overall plan [is not to use him in the outfield]. I don't want to confuse anything. The plan is for him to be the DH."

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