Kiermaier rewards Cash with all-around effort

Rays center fielder makes great catch, delivers big hit in win vs. Yankees

Kiermaier rewards Cash with all-around effort

ST. PETERSBURG -- Kevin Kiermaier has been scuffling offensively since returning from the disabled list. Still, Rays manager Kevin Cash hasn't even considered pulling him from the lineup.

"K.K., he brings so much to the table," Cash said earlier in the week. "We need the offense to get going. He knows that. He's doing everything he can to get that going for himself. We knew with his quick rehab that there was going to be a chance of him not getting out of the gate great. But his timing, I think, is getting closer and we should start seeing results here soon."

Saturday night, Kiermaier showcased the skills that have kept him in the lineup during the Rays' 6-3 win over the Yankees at Tropicana Field.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Kiermaier hit what appeared to be a lazy single into right field. But everybody who watches Kiermaier play on a daily basis knows there is nothing lazy about the way he goes about his business. Seemingly, he has an extra gear. So he didn't hesitate when rounding first to turn the single into a hustling double finished off with a headfirst slide into second base.

"I always go hard out of the box and I make my decision right at first or just after, and I was pretty intent on going right before I hit first base and try to put the pressure on the defense," Kiermaier said. "Then make him make a good throw to get me. I wanted to create a spark right there."

Kiermaier's double stands

Kiermaier then stole third base, again going headfirst. Steven Souza Jr. followed with a single to drive him home to put the Rays up 4-2.

"Dreamy McHustle," as Kiermaier's been called by his teammates in the past, wasn't done yet. After Chase Headley homered off Matt Andriese to lead off the eighth and cut the Rays' lead to 6-3, Austin Romine drove a ball to deep right-center field. If the drive landed, the Yankees might have been able to mount a serious rally. Instead, Kiermaier took flight at the start of the warning track, hurling himself into the air until he slammed into the wall with the ball in his glove.

Rays fans have seen Kiermaier make plays like that so many times. But there was nothing ordinary about it.

"You know what, we get spoiled," Cash said. "We get to see it all the time. But there aren't many center fielders who can get to that ball. Jump that high. It was an impressive catch. Fortunately for us, we get to see it quite a bit."

Kiermaier's offense isn't where he wants it to be, so he appreciates Cash keeping him in the lineup.

"I'm glad I'm playing every day," Kiermaier said. "This is a game of failure, and I understand that. I appreciate them letting me ride this out, even though I haven't produced the way I want to. But at the same time, scuffling, I don't want to do it. But it doesn't bother me at the same time because I take a lot of pride in how I handle myself mentally, too. Because we control all of that and I'm not going to let that affect me."

Kiermaier said his fractured right hand "feels good," and he said the lack of offense has been "just one of those things where I've had pitches to hit and I've missed them."

"I'll admit I haven't had the comeback I wanted so far, but that's the game of baseball," Kiermaier said. "It can be a roller coaster at times and you try to be more on the upper end than the lower end riding that roller coaster. But I felt great tonight and I'm still trying to make adjustments to feel more comfortable up there. Felt great tonight. Felt in control of my at-bats. I was seeing heaters, offspeed pitches, everything. The game felt slow to me again, finally. It's all about slowing the game down."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.