Rays flash small-ball skills in first frame of '17

Rays flash small-ball skills in first frame of '17

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays had trouble playing small ball in 2016. If the first inning of Sunday's 7-3 win over the Yankees is any kind of indicator, small ball might just become a part of their offense this season.

Corey Dickerson led off the Rays' first with a single to center field off Yankees righty Masahiro Tanaka. Kevin Kiermaier followed with a hustling double to left-center field, punctuated by a headfirst slide into second. Evan Longoria's sacrifice fly drove home Dickerson to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.

Brad Miller's infield single put runners at the corners before Steven Souza Jr. drew a walk to load the bases for Logan Morrison, who promptly singled through the middle to score two and put the Rays up, 3-0.

Longoria's sacrifice fly

"It's about situations," Dickerson said. "It's about being aware of the scoreboard. Being a smarter hitter. Having better approaches at the plate. And I think each one of us is honing into that and trying to have our best at-bats out there."

Rays hitters recorded just 119 productive outs in 2016, which was the second fewest in the Major Leagues behind Oakland (116). A productive out is defined as: when a fly ball, grounder or bunt advances a runner with nobody out; when a pitcher bunts to advance a runner with one out (maximizing the effectiveness of the pitcher's at-bat), or when a grounder or fly ball scores a run with one out.

"I think [hitting coach] Chad Mottola has talked to the guys about being a complete offense," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "You look back at last year. You hear the talk about how we hit a bunch of home runs, but they were solo home runs. We have to find a way to get on base. You hear them talk about that a lot. … Find a way to get on base, whether it's a hit or whatever. And then the big blast comes up."

That's exactly what happened on Sunday, and it started at the beginning.

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