ANAHEIM, Calif. — The repeated failures by the Rays batters make it seem as if hitting is a complicated and challenging concept.
Except that their best hitter makes it sound so simple.
"I just put the ball in play," infielder Jeff Keppinger said Saturday. "I just try not to do too much. Sometimes they're going to fall, sometimes they're not, and that's going to be the difference, I guess you'd say, where my on-base percentage is, where my batting average is, if you want to look at stats.
"To me, it's just hitting the ball. You hit it, you've got a chance to get a hit, you've got a chance to get on base."
Keppinger has done both better than any other Ray, who even after going 0-for-4 Saturday is batting .322, which would rank fifth in the American League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify (310), and has a .391 on-base percentage that would be eighth best.
Plus, he has struck out only 11 times in his first 202 plate appearances, the lowest ratio in the AL.
"The thing about Kepp is that he's really very skillful at swinging at strikes and taking balls," manager Joe Maddon said. "He just is. He'll battle off a tough pitch to get to the next pitch. He just has very good command of his strike zone, and he uses the whole field. …
"He just has a really bright approach to the plate. And also, a very simple swing — there's not a whole lot going on. He does a lot of things well at the plate."
The Rays signed Keppinger to be a bench player, starting against left-handers and filling in where needed. But with injuries, teammates' struggles and his own success, the 32-year-old has become a key piece of the lineup.
"He's at the point now where when there's people in scoring position, you want him to hit," Maddon said, "because you know he's going to put out a good at-bat, you know he's going to move the baseball. And that's very attractive because we have a tendency to not move the ball often with people in scoring position. So to this point in the year, I really appreciate his at-bats."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]