ST. PETERSBURG — In shuffling two of the struggling left-handed hitters in his lineup Tuesday, Rays manager Kevin Cash resisted any temptation to elevate Kevin Kiermaier — even with the power of his new fluorescent green tank top — from the No. 8 slot.
And that worked out pretty well, as Kiermaier proved to be in the right spot to be the bright spot, delivering a two-run sixth-inning homer that was the difference in a 3-1 win over the Orioles.
"Anytime you put your team up late in the game, it's a great feeling,'' Kiermaier said. "I had some frustrating at-bats earlier in the game. I think a lot of us did, especially with runners in scoring position. So for me to hit a pitch out right there was big.''
With the win, the Rays got back to .500 at 10-10, getting even for the first time in five tries since splitting their opening four-game series, matching their season high with a third straight victory and clinching their third series win in their past four.
There was plenty the Rays did well, starting with some dazzling glove work, turning three key double plays while Kiermaier made a highlight-reel catch in the first.
And starter Jake Odorizzi worked in and out of trouble in what Cash called a "gritty" five-inning, 97-pitch outing, with Enny Romero getting his first big-league win as the first of four relievers and Alex Colome his fifth save.
But then there was the offense, which was 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Even more telling was sending nine batters to the plate in the first three innings with a runner on third and getting only one run — on Desmond Jennings' sac fly, their first of the season. Otherwise, it was two walks and six other outs.
"We put a clinic on offensively of not what to do with runners in scoring position early on,'' Cash said.
But with Odorizzi getting the outs when he needed them, most impressively getting out of a bases-loaded, no-out mess in the fourth, the Rays got to the sixth tied at 1.
And that's where Kiermaier stepped up. As tempting as it might be to move Kiermaier up in the order, Cash — who instead flipped Brad Miller and Logan Morrison — said the primary reason for keeping him where he is for now is not to mess with his success.
"I think we saw KK really take off and mature offensively last year when he got dropped to that spot,'' Cash said. "And I don't think there's an urgency to get him back up at the top.''
After O's starter Ubaldo Jimenez got two quick outs, Steven Souza Jr., continuing his impressive opening month, singled. Then Kiermaier, who wasn't happy with his first two at-bats, stepped in and quickly got down 0-and-2. At that point, he was thinking of just finding a way to get on base and keep the inning going.
But, joking about his power being boosted by the eye-scorching New Balance tank top he got in Boston and has been wearing under his jersey rather than a T-shirt, he turned on a fastball and knocked it over the fence. (In Kiermaier's past eight games — which was before he got the shirt, but he was on a roll — he is hitting .321 with four doubles and three homers.)
"I've been a little inconsistent thus far offensively this year,'' he said. "I just want to try to have good at-bats, help the team any way I can, try to put the ball in play and put the pressure on the defense. But homers, those work, too.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.