PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Steven Souza Jr. returned to camp on Tuesday after a side trip to Seattle to take care of a personal matter.The Rays' outfielder left camp on Thursday to tend to a "family incident" and returned Monday night. Spring Training:Info | Tickets | Schedule | GearNow that he's
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Steven Souza Jr. returned to camp on Tuesday after a side trip to Seattle to take care of a personal matter.
The Rays' outfielder left camp on Thursday to tend to a "family incident" and returned Monday night.
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Now that he's back in camp, Souza is excited to get to work following an offseason of intense conditioning, a direction he chose to travel after running out of gas in the final month of the 2017 season.
"We play six months of baseball, and I played five good months of baseball [in 2017]," said Souza, who hit .159 with one home run and an RBI in 20 September games last season. "Unfortunately, they don't grade you on five months of baseball. So I changed my workout to try and basically push myself to the limit, to see how long I can sustain the strength."
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Despite the crash landing to end the season, Souza showed a lot of improvement in 2017. The power-hitting right fielder hit .239 with 30 home runs and 78 RBIs. Now, he wants more.
Thus, he did "a lot more conditioning."
"I want to go out here and be the best that I can be until the last game of the year," Souza said. "That's my goal. To play 162 games."
Souza smiled when a reporter pointed out that playing in 162 games was an auspicious goal.
"Well, we saw No. 3 [Evan Longoria] do it here for years, time and time again," Souza said.
A lot of Souza's teammates have noticed the change in his physique, which Souza admitted has been "kind of confusing."
"Because I've lifted every offseason, but this was the first time everybody acknowledged it," Souza said of his new physical frame. "So, I kind of questioned what I've been doing the last couple of offseasons. But [I'm] very thankful for my trainers back home, what I was able to accomplish during the offseason."
Souza had to dedicate much of his offseason following the 2016 season to rehabbing after hip surgery, whereas he had no restrictions during this past offseason.
"This was the first offseason in a while that I was able to do 'full body get after it,'" Souza said.
The 6-foot-4 Souza still weighs 225 pounds, though.
"I weigh the same," Souza said. "Just a lot less fat and more muscle."
In addition to the conditioning he did, which included pushing a weighted sled up hills, Souza watched what he ate.
"That was probably the biggest thing of the offseason," Souza said. "My wife and I held each other accountable. We tried to cut back on as much sugar as possible. Tried to eat a lot more greens. A lot less pizza, I love pizza. Just to try and clean up the diet. Just an ongoing process. We didn't go cold turkey. Just got better."
Limiting his intake of his beloved pepperoni pizza was the hardest part of the diet, but leave it to Souza to find a silver lining in his plight.
"That's the great thing about Seattle, it's not known for its pizza, but I can get good fish anywhere," Souza said. "And that's good for you."
Bottom line, Souza hopes his conditioning will help him find more consistency this season.
"I think the ability to maintain strength through the year is important, so from at-bat to at-bat, pitch by pitch, be able to lock in for every single game," Souza said. "When you're tired physically, it can mentally get to you. So I think that will pay off."
Though he's just 28, Souza is suddenly one of the more tenured players on the team, and will likely be looked upon as a leader. He's conscious of being relied upon to lead, but it's not a role he's sought.
"I'm just going to go out there and be me," Souza said. "I try and treat everybody the same. I try and play the game hard. My goal is to be a good teammate and build good relationships with guys. I'm going to do both of those things. ... It's not about one guy leading, it's about a good core of guys leading the group."