Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Confidence growing for Rays' red-hot Johnson

ST. PETERSBURG

They found him in the discount rack, buried there with the old beepers and the used Bananarama CDs. He was, as they say, priced to move.

There was a little wear to him, to be honest, a couple of dents. He was coming off a dreadful season. By trade, he was a second baseman, and the Rays were looking more for a utility player. His numbers weren't much to look at, but to be fair, the Rays didn't have a lot of numbers themselves. Why be picky?

Still, it is fair to say that nobody paid much attention as the team and the player went to the checkout counter together.

Well, look at Kelly Johnson now.

And join in the debate, won't you, over whether Johnson's first three-run homer Monday afternoon was more or less impressive than his second three-run homer.

This is how impressive Johnson was when he put the memory in the Rays' Memorial Day victory over the Miami Marlins. He went 4-for-5. He drove in six runs. He powered the Rays to a great start, and he powered them to a nice finish.

And how do you like his value these days?

From time to time, the Rays do this. They pluck a guy out of the 2010 season, and they give him a chance, and they watch as he squeezes a little more production out of his potential. That has been true all season with James Loney. It has been true, too, with Johnson, who, so far, has rediscovered the thunder in his bat.

"I feel good, and I feel confident," Johnson, 31, says simply. "I think you're always searching for something that's going to let you feel confident, and you just roll with it. It can be different daily, weekly. It's just the way baseball is."

How hot is Johnson? He is hitting .296 for the season. He has five three-hit games, all in the past month (he had only two all of last season). He leads the team with 10 homers. He has knocked in 24 runs in May. Playing in the outfield for the first time since his rookie season, he has thrown out six baserunners.

"He is really good," manager Joe Maddon said. "I think he's a very, very good outfielder. That part of his persona is underestimated. He runs well. You see the power. He's not this huge guy, but he has extreme power. He throws well. He can play several positions."

Take the second inning of Monday's game, when the Marlins' sensational 20-year-old Jose Fernandez (from Alonso High in Tampa) was still throwing seeds. Fernandez had hit 99 on the radar in striking out Johnson in the first (he would hit it three times against Evan Longoria).

At the time, the Rays had taken a 3-0 lead, but they still had only one hit when Johnson turned on a 1-and-2 curveball and drove it over the rightfield wall. That made it 6-0, and the Rays were on their way.

"The guy's got top three stuff we've seen this year," Johnson said. "You're obviously trying to shorten up, get the foot down and put the bat on something. I'm glad I was able to put the good part of the barrel on it."

Even after that, the game turned into an adventure for Johnson. He hit a soft single up the middle in the fourth. In the sixth, his high popup just short of second base left the Marlins infielders running patterns like clown cars and fell untouched for a double. And when the Marlins intentionally walked the next batter, Longoria, Johnson took off on ball four and stole third.

A heady play, Maddon suggested. A smart play.

Uh, not so much, Johnson said.

"That was dumb," he said. "I regret that. I'm glad I'm safe, but it was close. I should never do that ever again. I'm watching him not paying attention to me, and he's lobbing it in there. I felt like I was going to be a whole lot more safe than that. I had all these things in my head that I convinced myself."

When things are going well, however, a player can do no wrong. Not running. Not catching. Not hitting.

For the Rays, the kill shot came in the eighth inning, when once again, Johnson drove a two-strike pitch over the rightfield wall. It was a telling blow, because if the Rays offense has had a problem this year, it is that it hasn't padded early leads often enough, which has put the game in the hands of the bullpen.

Not this time. Johnson became the first Ray to ever hit two three-run homers in a game. He also ensured that when Fernando Rodney took the mound in the ninth, it was with a four-run lead instead of a one-run lead.

"That's the way we have to keep doing it," Johnson said. "We can't score early and put it in cruise control. We've just got to keep plugging away, keep trying to score as many runs as possible."

Odd game, baseball. A year ago, Johnson hit .225 for the Blue Jays. This year, a couple of adjustments, a dose of confidence, and he has people wondering why the Jays ever let him go.

"You're always looking to prove yourself no matter what," Johnson said. "That's the nature of the game, even when you're going well.

"I've had good moments. I've had good months. I've had good seasons. I can do it. It's not like it's lost. I have the ability to do some things that will get me in the lineup. Everyone should feel that way. It's a little bit of self-confidence in a game where it's hard to sustain self-confidence."

Production helps. Three-run homers help. Six-RBI games help. Days like this help bolster Johnson's confidence.

Everyone else's, too.

Comments
Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

ST. PETERSBURG — With all that's been said, tweeted, ranted and written on these pages and elsewhere about the Rays' odd, unorthodox, weird and some days downright wacky pitching plan, this might be the craziest thing yet:It's working.Like, rea...
Published: 06/23/18
Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Besides the continual evolution of their intriguing pitching plan, the primary topics of conversation for the Rays over the next several weeks will be trades and prospects. And not mutually exclusively.Some sooner than others, the Rays are going to c...
Published: 06/23/18
Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

ST. PETERSBURG — The key to SS Willy Adames rapping two of the biggest hits in the Rays' 4-0 win Saturday actually took place the night before.An RBI single that snapped an 0-for-12 and a second hit two winnings later in Friday's game restored ...
Published: 06/23/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Yankees game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Yankees game

INF Daniel Robertson has only played two games after a short DL stint, but it seems like he has already made a half dozen great plays. Willy Adames and Jake Bauers get the attention, but Robertson has the skills to steal the show any night.It is obvi...
Published: 06/23/18
For starters: Rays vs. Yankees, looking for two straight

For starters: Rays vs. Yankees, looking for two straight

UPDATE, 2:38: Clarifying what was a communication error with the team PR staff, Rays manager Kevin Cash said LHP Blake Snell was slated for an extra day's rest all along and will face the Nationals on Monday not the Yankees on Sunday. The Rays will u...
Published: 06/23/18
Rodney Page’s takeaways from Rays-Yankees

Rodney Page’s takeaways from Rays-Yankees

1. SS Willy Adames had a nice night, and there appear to be many more in his future. He had two hits, an RBI and an inning-ending leaping catch on a line drive by Didi Gregorius in the fifth.2. DH C.J. Cron needs to shake things up. Take a different ...
Published: 06/22/18
Marc Anthony pays a visit to the Trop

Marc Anthony pays a visit to the Trop

By Allana BarefieldTimes Staff WriterST. PETERSBURG — Latin pop star Marc Anthony visited Tropicana Field on Friday to see his beloved Yankees play the Rays.Anthony spent nearly an hour on the field before the game as fans and players surrounde...
Published: 06/22/18
Rays journal: Daniel Robertson’s return crowds up infield

Rays journal: Daniel Robertson’s return crowds up infield

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays reinstated INF Daniel Robertson from the 10-day disabled list (left hamstring strain). To make room, RHP Austin Pruitt was sent to Triple-A Durham."It's out of my mind. I don't think about (the hamstring) when I'm bend...
Published: 06/22/18
Rays hang on for a 2-1 win over Yankees

Rays hang on for a 2-1 win over Yankees

ST. PETERSBURG – Many times this season the Rays' strategy of opening the game with a short reliever and using the bullpen to finish hasn't had much success.Friday wasn't one of those nights.A total of six pitchers held the Yankees and their va...
Published: 06/22/18
Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

ST. PETERSBURG — Missing all of 2017 might have been the absolute worst thing for Matt Duffy.Frustratingly idled as he eventually recovered and rehabbed from ongoing left heel issues, he couldn't play the game he loved, couldn't show the Rays o...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18