ST. PETERSBURG — Optimism and silver linings have been hard to come by for the Rays, who entered Friday with a 10-game losing streak and the worst record in baseball.
One positive has been the emergence of rookie RF Kevin Kiermaier, who extended his hitting streak to five games Friday by stretching a grounder into a double and scoring the game's first run.
"He's probably playing offensively at maybe his highest level," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The guy loves to play. You've got to appreciate it as a teammate or a manager or a coach. You can enjoy watching this guy play every day."
Maddon has called the 24-year-old speedster one of the league's top defensive outfielders, but his bat has started to catch up. Since May 18, Kiermaier leads the Rays with three home runs and six extra-base hits. His .379 batting average — albeit in a small sample size of 12 games — was the team's best entering Friday.
He had three hits, including a home run Thursday, at times using unconventional swings.
"It's kind of how I've always been," Kiermaier said. "I might have some unorthodox swings at times, but I can get some hits out of it sometimes. I just try to put the ball in play as much as I can. It might not look pretty sometimes, but it works every now and then."
MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) plans to make his first rehab start today for Class A Charlotte in Tampa. He's scheduled to throw three or four innings and 50-60 pitches. If all goes well, he'd likely make two more rehab starts before rejoining the Rays for the June 27 doubleheader at Baltimore.
C Ryan Hanigan (right hamstring) is set to catch Hellickson and play about six innings. He said the team is expecting him to make two more starts, at designated hitter, before rejoining the Rays on Wednesday, when he is eligible to be activated from the DL.
"Barring any setbacks, I should be fine," Hanigan said.
COBB'S PAUSE: RHP Alex Cobb is approaching today's start with the same mentality he had when he returned from the disabled list last month: Ignore the team's slump, and don't try to win five games in one day.
"You can't really do too much," Cobb said. "You go out there and pitch your game."
Cobb's 3.19 ERA is the best in the Rays' rotation thanks, in part, to a tweaked delivery.
At some point last year — Cobb isn't sure exactly when — he lengthened a pause in his motion to help him balance while his arm catches up to the rest of his body.
His teammates have told him the delay also has the bonus of messing up hitters' timing.
"Maybe it's kind of morphed into a little bit of deception," Cobb said.
ZIMMER TRIBUTE: Maddon honored Don Zimmer, who died Wednesday, by buying about 50 of the Coney Island hot dogs — complete with chili, onions and mustard — that the Rays' senior adviser used to bring.
"I thought it was the right day to bring out the Zim-dog," Maddon said.
MISCELLANY: C Jose Molina's sac fly in the fourth gave him his first RBI of the season and snapped his streak of 100 at-bats without one. … Hanigan and OF David DeJesus participated in a Q&A at the Rays Baseball Foundation Community Fund Grant luncheon, which made donations to 20 charities.
Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @MBakerTBTimes.