ST. PETERSBURG — The energy, athleticism and enthusiasm rookie OF Kevin Kiermaier has brought to the Rays during the six weeks since he was called up has been a contributing factor in the team's recent improved play, enough to offset his occasional mistakes.
Kiermaier came up big again Wednesday, an inning after being picked off first, with his first professional grand slam as part of a four-hit night.
But the Rays losing the game took much of the fun out of it.
"It feels good,'' Kiermaier said. "But at the end of the day, that was a tough ninth inning and just puts a damper on everything. It's not about me, it's about the team.''
Kiermaier wasn't much of a home run hitter in the minors, with 15 total (including three this year) and no more than six in any season. In 45 games with the Rays, he has hit eight.
The grand slam didn't come easy, as he was facing fireballing Yordano Ventura, who hit 100 mph 15 times in the game. But Ventura threw Kiermaier three straight changeups (clocked 89-89-87), a 100 mph fastball Kiermaier took then came back with an 89 mph changeup he was waiting for and crushed into the rightfield seats.
Kiermaier became the first rookie with four hits and a grand slam in the same game since 2010 (Washington's Danny Espinosa) and the first in recorded history (since 1914) to do so from the No. 9 spot. It was the Rays' first slam in more than a year, Wil Myers on June 22, 2013.
REHAB REPORT: SS Yunel Escobar played five innings Wednesday for the advanced Class A Stone Crabs to complete a two-game rehab and is set to come off the disabled and go back into the lineup on Friday.
FEELING GOOD: RHP Jeremy Hellickson felt a little sore Wednesday. That was a good thing the day after his season debut, having thrown 41/3 innings after being sidelined since January elbow surgery. "I felt fine, pretty normal," he said. "Just the usual day after tightness, no pain or anything."
Now the Rays have to decide when he will pitch next. With the four-day All-Star break starting Monday, Hellickson will go at least nine days between starts, longer depending on where he slots into the rotation. With two days off in the first week after the break, the Rays actually could go without a fifth starter until July 29.
DOUBLE DUTY: After Wednesday's game, LHP Jake McGee and wife Morgan McNally were headed to a Tampa hospital to have labor induced for delivery of their first child, a daughter to be named Rowen Beth. McGee is set to be placed on paternity leave for the Friday and Saturday games then return Sunday. The Rays need a spot for Escobar, so they could activate him Friday in McGee's place then send someone else out Sunday.
MEDICAL MATTERS: Friday could be a big day before the Rays take the field against the Blue Jays. Three players sidelined with hand injuries — OF David DeJesus, OF Wil Myers, INF Jerry Sands — will all have follow-up exams that will determine how soon they can resume baseball activities.
DeJesus (left hand fracture) is likely to be back first, probably needing about two weeks and returning by late July or early August. Myers (right wrist fracture) will have his cast taken off, and if X-rays are good he can begin what is expected to be three-four weeks of rehab. Sands (strained left wrist tendon) may need surgery and would be out for the season.
MISCELLANY: The Royals have won 10 of the past 13 from the Rays. … Among teams with top or extra scouts at the Trop this week: the Giants (ex-Ray Pat Burrell), Dodgers, Brewers and Mariners. … More than 200 people signed up to lend a hand Friday at area shelters for the Rays' Thanksmas Day of Volunteering.