Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Kiermaier shows refined approach in Rays' win over Orioles (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — The first-inning home run was impressive, a 425-foot drive that cleared the seats in rightfield.

"That was nice," Kevin Kiermaier said. "I don't do that often. I'll remember that one for a little bit."

And there was the over-the-shoulder catch at the centerfield wall after a long run that saved a pair of runs the following inning.

But what really stood out Wednesday from Kiermaier during the Rays' back-and-forth 7-6 victory over the Orioles was his fourth-inning at-bat.

Bases loaded. Two outs. Full count. Rays down two runs.

Kiermaier lined an opposite-field single to leftfield that scored two.

For all the things Kiermaier can do — defense, speed on the bases, occasional power — going with the pitch for a big hit in a key moment is what will eventually make him the offensive threat the Rays envision at the top of the lineup.

"The most impressive thing KK did (Wednesday) in my opinion was the at-bat where he went the other way to pick up the two runs," manager Kevin Cash said.

"I agree," Kiermaier said.

Kiermaier has hit safely in a career-high 11 straight games, tying Evan Longoria for the team's longest hitting streak this season. He was 9-for-24 (.375 average) with a triple, two home runs, eight RBIs, three walks and six runs scored during the homestand. He reached base in seven of his final eight plate appearances.

In the 32 games since being moved to the second spot in the lineup, Kiermaier is batting .282 with a .341 on-base percentage, a .444 slugging percentage, four home runs and 14 RBIs.

Also of note is that Kiermaier has used his speed to swipe 14 straight bases.

"What KK does on the field energizes our dugout," Cash said.

Kiermaier helped the Rays (59-79) avoid being swept by the playoff-contending Orioles (76-63) in a number of ways.

He didn't do it by himself. Nick Franklin had a two-run homer in the second inning, and Corey Dickerson drove in a pair of runs with a fifth-inning single and a seventh-inning double. Mikie Mahtook had three hits and scored each time.

With the lead changing hands six times, it was hard to pinpoint one crucial moment.

But Kiermaier had just one hit this season in seven at-bats with the bases loaded before facing Orioles rookie Dylan Bundy in the fourth inning. Drew Smyly had just kicked away his second lead of the game, and Bundy was one pitch away from a much-needed shutdown inning.

And Kiermaier lined an opposite-field hit on a fastball that was up and out of the strike zone that got the Rays back in the game.

"They always say hit it where they ain't in baseball, and right there I did, and it scored two runs," Kiermaier said. "I'll take them any way I can, but it always feels good hitting the ball to all fields. I like doing that, and that's when I'm at my best."

     
                                                                                       
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