Morrison steps into leadership role with Rays

Morrison steps into leadership role with Rays

ARLINGTON -- Logan Morrison looked lost at the beginning of the 2016 season.

Fortunately for the veteran slugger, what's unfolded since has been positive for him and the Rays. Heading into Thursday's off-day, Morrison leads Tampa Bay in home runs with 15, including Wednesday night's game-winner over Texas, and RBIs with 36.

So it's hard to fathom what happened last season. Morrison barely reached base, finishing April 2016 with a .100 average and a .290 OPS. In 64 plate appearances, he had six hits and four walks, he did not have a home run or an RBI, and he struck out 25 times while leaving 20 runners on base.

"I think I was trying to impress," said Morrison, who arrived to the Rays in a trade with the Mariners after the 2015 season. "Trying to do too much. When you're going through something like that, you lose the feel of what it's like to be comfortable in the box. You're thinking things you shouldn't be thinking.

"Baseball's not easy. It's a hard enough game as it is. And when your mind gets in the way, even if it's a little bit, it's harder."

While Morrison dealt with his struggles, he remained the consummate pro. He never grew surly with the media for writing about his struggles, or the fans, who were less than appreciative of his results.

"It's not the media's fault, it's not the fans' fault, it's my own fault," Morrison said. "So why would I take it out on the media or anybody else?"

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash appreciated what he saw from Morrison.

"I don't think I've ever been around a player who handled such a difficult time of not producing," Cash said. "Coming over, new environment, new teammates. He was the same guy every day. It was kind of really nice to see. Because it's so easy for guys to fail and make excuses, and complain. LoMo didn't even think about that as an option."

Added right fielder Steven Souza Jr.: "He just kept going, he just kept believing. Then he took off. Something clicked. And it was fun to root for him."

Morrison got off to a better start this season, ending April with five home runs and 14 RBIs, which more closely resembled expectations for the veteran slugger. In the opener, he went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs.

"I think from a confidence level, a good start helps out a lot," Morrison said. "Helps you relax a little bit. Whereas last year, it was one 0-fer after another to start the year. It's hard not to press at that point."

The Rays hit four home runs in Thursday night's 7-5 win over the Rangers. Entering Thursday, the team leads the American League in home runs (83), and Morrison is big part of the power-laden lineup.

Rays belt four home runs in win

The big difference for Morrison between this season and the start of last season is easy for him to quantify.

"I'm not missing pitches down the middle," he said. "And when I do get them down the middle, I'm getting them in the air and they're going out. Everybody misses stuff. But the majority of my at-bats, I'm getting to enough pitches in the middle of the plate, and getting them in the air for homers or doubles."

That's a good thing for the Rays, but a bad thing for opposing pitchers.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.