SEATTLE -- Ben Zobrist started at shortstop Tuesday night, his fifth start in six games at the position he played when he arrived to the Major Leagues with the Rays in 2006.
From what the Rays are saying -- and what their actions have said -- Zobrist is looking more and more like the team's everyday shortstop, which is fine with Zobrist.
"It's one of my favorite positions for sure," Zobrist said. "If it was permanent, I would love it. If it's for a period of time, I'm fine with that too. Whatever works best for the team's probably going to work out what's best for me, probably, in the end."
Zobrist said manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff have asked him how comfortable he would be playing either of the corner infield positions.
"I said, 'To be honest, I'm not very comfortable at the corners,'" Zobrist said. "You know, it takes more reps than I've had there to get comfortable. But shortstop is a little different, because I've had a ton of reps in the past at shortstop."
Zobrist was asked if making a return to shortstop was like riding a bicycle, something one never forgets.
"I think, for the most part, I'm comfortable. [Making] the turn, I'm not totally comfortable with," Zobrist said. "It feels a little weird, because I haven't done it too much yet. And I'm trying to play [the position] a little bit more like I started playing second base back in 2009, which is different than I played shortstop before.
"Before it was more like: Get in front of the ball. Set your feet. Make a strong throw. The way I played second, if it's a play that I have to charge or range, I'm pretty much throwing on the run. So that's the way I'm trying to play shortstop as well, rather than trying to set my feet on every throw. I think it might help me get to a few more ball than I did back in 2006 through 2008. It's a little different."
Facing Felix just the start of tough stretch for Rays
SEATTLE -- Talk about running the gauntlet. Rays hitters will be doing just that beginning Wednesday afternoon when they face 2010 Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez.
And it won't get any easier when they reach Anaheim on Thursday, as they will face Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Zack Greinke.
"Couple of Cy Youngs in there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "A couple of potential Cy Youngs in there, but they have to say the same thing about our guys."
Each of the pitchers the Rays will face has been an All-Star, Hernandez and Greinke have won Cy Young Awards and Weaver threw a no-hitter this year.
"Those are some good pitchers in a row," Jeff Keppinger said. "But you have to face good pitchers throughout the year. It just so happens that we happen to get all of them in a bunch. We have to go out there and swing the bats. Swing at strikes."
While players are used to seeing good pitchers, Keppinger allowed that players aren't immune from looking at the list of coming starters they will face and seeing a difficult task ahead.
"But there's nothing you can do about it," Keppinger said. "We just have to go out there and compete. They have to face our pitching, too."
Sam Fuld noted that because the Rays play in the American League East, they see a lot of tough pitchers.
"You see a lot of quality arms all the time," Fuld said. "Yeah, we have five games in a row where we're facing five really quality guys. But we're pretty well equipped to take that on.
"We see quality arms a lot. This happens to be a little more daunting than normal. But gosh, we've got a lot of momentum on our side. We're swinging the bats better at a good time."
The Rays will be countering the fab five they'll be facing with a group of their own, beginning with Jeremy Hellickson on Wednesday, followed by David Price, James Shields, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore.
"That's the beauty of our pitching staff," Fuld said. "No matter who we're facing offensively, we feel like -- and it's not necessarily the best approach to take -- but we know we can get away with scoring two or three runs and have a chance to win. We don't ever want to be resigned to that, but it certainly helps when we go up against these quality arms."
Keppinger added: "Every time we come into a place, the other team can't be too happy facing our staff. Our staff's good, our bullpen's pretty lights out too. There isn't an easy matchup in there."
Maddon has never been the voice of panic about coming attractions that the Rays must deal with, and predictably, he didn't sound the panic alarm about the pitchers the Rays will have to face in the coming five days.
"We've had a history of beating good pitchers in close games because we've pitched well," Maddon said. "And that's the way I look at it."
Once again, Price misses out on Mariners
SEATTLE -- By some freaky rotational quirk, David Price has never faced the Mariners and he won't during the three-game series that concludes Wednesday afternoon in Seattle.
After this week's series with the Mariners concludes, the Rays and Mariners will have met 37 times since Price's Major League debut. During that period, Price has faced every other AL team at least twice -- and every other AL team besides Kansas City at least five times.
When asked about the oddity, Price shrugged his shoulders.
"Yeah, that is a little unusual," Price said.
Scott, Niemann close to returning
SEATTLE -- Luke Scott (mild strain, right external oblique) and Jeff Niemann (right fibula fracture) are both close to returning to the team. Both played for Class A Charlotte of the Florida State League on Tuesday in a game at Bradenton, Fla.
Scott hit an opposite-field home run while going 2-for-4 as the Stone Crabs' DH. Niemann pitched 3 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said the news on both players' progress was good.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.