Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Versatile Steve Pearce gives Rays lineup options

PORT CHARLOTTE — Versatility can extend a baseball player's career like few things can, and Steve Pearce, joining the Rays this year — his fifth major-league team in 10 seasons — earns his keep all over the field.

"Pearce is a guy who would volunteer to do anything to be in the lineup," manager Kevin Cash said Saturday. "He just wants to play."

In Pearce's first four games with the Rays this spring, he lined up at four positions: first base, third base, leftfield and designated hitter. He has played 186 career games as a corner outfielder and another 16 at second base, so he brings a rare flexibility to the Rays roster.

"I'm open to playing anywhere," said Pearce, 32, a Lakeland native. "I don't care where I play as long as I'm in the lineup, so whatever increases my chances, pretty much. I think they're going to use me everywhere."

The super-utility role always has been key with the Rays, and Logan Forsythe played five positions in 2014 before settling in as an everyday second baseman last year. Brad Miller played all three outfield spots and second, third and short for Seattle last year, but he should be the Rays' every-day shortstop.

Pearce's flexibility extends to the batting order. He has hit from all nine positions in his major-league career, with enough power to hit in the middle of the order as necessary.

He worked in the offseason to be more consistent at the plate, having seen his batting average with the Orioles dip from .293 in 2014 to .218 last season, though he has hit a combined 36 home runs in those two seasons as a productive part-timer.

The Rays have roster decisions to make, but Pearce should see regular work at first against left-handers and as a backup at second and third, with the occasional outfield work as well.

"We knew that when we signed him, but we've got some options: second, third, first and (as) either one of the corner outfielders," Cash said. "That definitely helps, especially as aggressive as we like to be to utilize the whole roster and with the bullpen. To have those guys who can play multiple positions helps a lot."

Wherever he plays, Pearce has shown a penchant for hitting well at the Trop — seven homers in 73 at-bats against the Rays there, with a career .288 average in St. Petersburg. That's home for him now, as is nearly anywhere the Rays want to send him and his glove.

"People have nagging injuries where they need a couple days, and I want them to feel comfortable with me in the lineup, that I'm not going to hurt you defensively when I'm out there," said Pearce, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI single in a 6-2 win over the Yankees on Thursday. "I'm going to keep working hard in case any of those guys need a break."

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected]

     
                                                                 
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