Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier can do almost anything you ask of him, except stay healthy

The Rays' 3-12 season may have just gone from bad to worse as centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier injured his right thumb sliding and will miss some time for a third year in a row.
Rays first-base coach Ozzie Timmons checks on Kevin Kiermaier after the centerfielder injures his thumb in the first. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
Rays first-base coach Ozzie Timmons checks on Kevin Kiermaier after the centerfielder injures his thumb in the first. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published April 15, 2018|Updated April 16, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — K.K. is not okay.


For the third straight season, Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier will likely miss a significant number of games, this time with a right thumb injury.

It happened in the first inning of Sunday's 10-4 loss to the Phillies, the last one Kiermaier will play for a while.

"He's going to get an MRI (exam) tomorrow. Not too excited the potential of it," manager Kevin Cash said. "I don't want to get too far ahead of it, but he's going to be out."

Not surprisingly, Kiermaier was injured by playing his typical hustling — albeit sometimes reckless — brand of baseball.

He blooped a single in front of Phillies leftfielder Rhys Hoskins in his first at-bat. When Hoskins bobbled the ball, Kiermaier churned for second base, diving headfirst and jamming his right thumb on the bag he tried not to slide past.

"I go in there and I knew it was going to be a close play and just kind of got caught on the ground, and the thumb kind of got caught at a weird angle," Kiermaier said quietly in the Rays clubhouse while wearing a soft cast on his right hand.

"It was one of those things where I thought I had a chance to overslide the bag, which I've done a couple times in my career, and I was just trying to hold on. I don't know if that's what made my thumb go at the angle it did, but I definitely thought I jammed it. I didn't like the way my thumb felt after that as far as how it was looking and how it was moving."

Kiermaier stayed in the game, scoring on Mallex Smith's triple to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. But he tried to pick up a baseball in the dugout, and that was it. The DL awaits.

"It wasn't right. We'll get further tests tomorrow and final word what's going to happen, but it's just unfortunate," Kiermaier said. "It's just another freak accident. I can't believe I'm saying this for a third year in a row now. The hardest part about all this is I feel like I let a lot of people down. My teammates, the community, coaches. I harped on this in spring training all year, I said I just want to stay healthy for my teammates and put my talents on display for a full year, and that's in jeopardy right now."

Kiermaier has a lot of tools — a platinum glove in centerfield, an above-average arm, great speed, surprising power. He can do anything you ask of him except stay healthy, it seems.  He missed two months last season due to a hip fracture he received sliding into first base, playing in 98 games. He played in 105 games in 2016 due to a wrist injury he suffered while trying to make a diving catch.

"It's beyond frustrating," Cash said. "We are all tired of KK getting hurt, and there's nothing he can do about it."

Or is there?

Look, Kiermaier is the face of the Rays now, and a handsome one at that. Nobody can ever fault a guy for playing like his hair is on fire. And Kiermaier is batting .163, so you can see why he feels a bit responsible for the Rays' wretched start, the worst record in the American League. Already, they are 10 games behind first-place Boston in the AL East.

But sliding feet first into first base often earns a player a ticket to the DL. Sliding head first everywhere else puts all 10 digits and two wrists in jeopardy with each attempt. And yet, it's how he got to the big leagues.

"I don't think you can ever change the comfort of sliding," Cash said. "We'll take the effort he gives. It would be way off base for me to second-guess anything K.K. does because if you're hand-picking somebody to play, that's the style you want somebody to play."

The Rays missed K.K. immediately. In the third inning, Hoskins one-hopped the centerfield wall with a blast to plate three runs. Rookie Johnny Field had no chance, but you wonder if Kiermaier would have.

Kiermaier also seemed to be coming out of his slump. Having been dropped to third in the order, he had three hits in his last 10 innings.

The Rays can't pitch. In 10 starts, Chris Archer, Blake Snell and Jake Faria are 2-3 with a 6.57 ERA. The bullpen has been better, except for Alex Colome. But on Sunday, rookie Ryan Yarbrough struggled in a 38-pitch third inning and couldn't get out of the fifth, allowing five runs. It was the fifth time the Rays have allowed 10 runs or more.

They can't hit. It was the 11th time they have scored four runs or fewer, and they are 0-11 in those games.

The hope was that someone like Kiermaier would lead the Rays out of this malaise.

"I'm hoping for the best but preparing for the worst," Kiermaier said. "Unfortunately, I'm all too familiar with this given my injuries the past couple years.

"This whole team, nothing has gone our way."