Next step for Kiermaier: Upping his offense

Next step for Kiermaier: Upping his offense

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Defense has always been a priority for Kevin Kiermaier.

And the Rays center fielder has elevated the way the position is played. He won Gold and Platinum Glove Awards for his work in 2015, and also won a Gold Glove Award in 2016 -- despite playing in just 105 games due to injuries.

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Everybody knows about Kiermaier's defense. But what about his offense?

The athletic native of Fort Wayne, Ind., has a .258 career average with 32 home runs and 112 RBIs in 365 games. He knows that to be considered one of the top players in the game, the offensive side of the ledger needs to improve.

"I've got to find consistency," Kiermaier said. "I've had some really bad stretches, and some really good stretches. When I can balance that out -- and I've had times when I've done that. Moving up to the 2-hole last year I think was the most consistent I've been in my Major League career since I came up in 2014."

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Kiermaier has a healthy respect for Major League pitching.

"When I got called up, I felt like I couldn't get out," Kiermaier said. "Then the league kind of figured some things out. And I figured out how hard this game was. But consistency, that's the key."

Part of the reason Kiermaier is such a defensive weapon is his speed, a component that should make him more dangerous on offense as well.

"I know I've got to do anything I can to use my speed on the bases," Kiermaier said. "Try to draw walks. Get hit by pitches. Work the counts and swing at strikes. That's when I'm at my best. And bunting."

Kiermaier allowed that opposing defenses can expect to see a healthy dose of bunts from him this season.

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"You have to take what the defense gives you," Kiermaier said. "If guys are going to be squeezing me, you know, Manny Machado playing super far in on me, I'm probably not going to try to lay down a perfect bunt. These guys are so good at that barehanded running play. I don't want to have to feel like I have to lay down a perfect bunt."

Kiermaier compiled an impressive career-best 13-game hitting streak last season from Aug. 27 through Sept. 9, during which he hit .407. And on Sept. 8 at New York, he had the first multi-home run game of his career, hitting two off of CC Sabathia in his first two trips to the plate at Yankee Stadium. According to Statcast™, Kiermaier upped his pull rate in 2016 from 41.3 percent to 49.5 percent, which is a good thing for him. When he pulled the ball last season, he hit .448 with a .552 slugging percentage. Kiermaier also doubled his walk rate from 4.5 percent to 9.7 percent. So Kiermaier knows the offense lives somewhere inside of him.

"It all comes back to me trying to be as consistent as possible," Kiermaier said. "I know when I get on base, or I'm hitting the ball well, I can make a lot of things happen."

The Rays are counting on Kiermaier making things happen for their offense this season.

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