ST. PETERSBURG — There was the time in late May when Corey Dickerson hit a ball that bounced in front of the plate, swatted it for a double. He hit anything that moved wherever it moved. He was that good.
Now the Rays All-Star, once the American League leader in batting and hits, is mired in serious muck, as is his team, despite a 3-0 win Sunday. Dickerson went hitless in the weekend series against Seattle. His average has dropped from .330 on June 26 to .282 and he's hitting .167 (12 for 72) in August and .206 since the All-Star break.
"I would say right now that as hot as he got, he might be just that cold," Rays manager Kevin Cash said Friday night. "But we're optimistic that he'll get back up there."
The Rays need a Dickerson return to what was shaping up as a career year. Sunday, at least, they refused to waste the best pitching performance of Blake Snell's career (seven innings, no runs) as Kevin Kiermaier and Adeiny Hechavarria homered. But it's going to take a lot more than that.
The Rays somehow remain on the edge of the AL wild-card race despite losing seven of their last nine and 12 of their last 16. It's too late, if you ask me. And a wretched stretch of punchless offense is the culprit.
"Every team goes through it," Dickerson said Friday. "We just had terrible timing when it happened. But we're still floating around there. It's not the end of the world. We can still make a run. We still have plenty of time."
Dickerson's woes aren't the Rays' only problem. You could line up Rays hitting struggles like prized hogs at the state fair. Evan Longoria is batting .177 in his last 17 games. Logan Morrison has hit just three home runs in his last 30 games. Brad Miller's blinding awfulness (2 for his last 32, .187 this season) is made all the more glaring since Tim Beckham was shipped to Baltimore and became The Whammer.
All this has doomed the Rays to a 10-21 record since July 19. They've wasted some marvelous pitching along the way, from both the starters and the currently unhittable bullpen. Rays starting pitchers have thrown to a 3.40 ERA in August and the bullpen has a 2.02 ERA in the same span. But the Rays are just 7-12 in August. Unacceptable.
Back to Dickerson. He isn't chasing pitches, though he struck out on one Sunday. "We're just missing pitches we should hit and I think Corey is right in that boat," Cash said.
So are a lot of Rays.
Anyway, Dickerson was turning bad pitches into base hits for half a season. Maybe he ought to start swinging at bouncers again.
"If the season ended today, I can't say it would be a bad year," Dickerson said. "If anybody really dug into the numbers, everything in my offensive game has been better. Swinging inside the zone, not swinging at pitches outside the zone as much, seeing more pitches every at-bat. I think I've hit 15, 20 balls harder than I've hit any other month and only two of them have fallen.
"Also, I haven't felt as good as I had earlier. I admit that. It's just a long season. It's having 500 at-bats, going through ups and downs. It's an exhausting game, and you have to be physically and mentally bringing it every day. Sometimes slumps come. Hopefully you get out of them."
Dickerson pointed to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, the runaway AL batting leader at .362. Once upon a time, Dickerson was ahead of Altuve in batting and hits. Dickerson is still eighth in hits with 135. Altuve has 171.
"Altuve started the season real slow," Dickerson said. "Look at him now. It's about what have you done for me right now. That's the way the game is. If I was doing the same thing I was doing the first half, I'd be at 200 hits or something crazy. We'll all hit our second wind. Last year, I had a great end of the year. What I'm going to try to do is finish as strong as possible."
Time for a second wind. The Rays are nearly out of air.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly