By Joe Henderson
ST. PETERSBURG — At the close of business on Aug. 14, Kevin Kiermaier was hitting .175 and looked lost.
Since then, different story – and the story continued Friday as Kiermaier banged out two more hits, including a three-run homer, to raise his average to .216 in an 14-2 win over the Orioles.
The third-inning homer off RHP Dylan Bundy hit off the rightfield foul pole and was Kiermaier's third in the past two games. He was the one bright note, with two homers, in Wednesday's 10-3 loss to the Blue Jays.
"And he almost had a third one (at Toronto)," manager Kevin Cash said before Friday's game.
Since that low-water mark, Kiermaier has hit .348 with five doubles, three triples and three homers. He was 2-for-3 in Friday's rout before giving way in the seventh inning to rookie Andrew Velasquez, who promptly recorded his first big-league hit with a single to right and later scored his first run.
"He's got a chance here to get hot and kind of reset his season a little bit," Cash said of Kiermaier. "It hasn't gone his way to this point, but I think it's going in the right direction."
LH ace Blake Snell's ERA at the Trop actually jumped Friday, despite a mostly dominant performance against the Orioles.
The two-run homer he gave up to Joey Rickard on his 104th and final pitch of the game left Snell's ERA at 1.23 in 11 starts at home. It was 1.06 entering the game.
Staying in the race
The Rays entered Friday eight games behind the A's for the second American League wild-card spot with 23 games remaining.
While the Rays remain on the edge of playoff contention, it's worth noting that with 23 games left in 2011, they were eight behind the Red Sox for the only wild-card spot, only to make the playoffs with a dramatic Game 162 victory.
But with each game looming large in their hopes of closing the gap on the A's and Mariners in the wild-card race, Cash was asked if his club might be engaged in a little scoreboard watching.
"I hope not too much," he said. "I hope we keep going about our business the way we have been. It is a big homestand, but we want to play well in all series."
After missing Wednesday's game in Toronto, LF Tommy Pham made the most of his return to the lineup with a home run to center in the fifth. It pushed his hitting streak to 11 games, two shy of his career high.
Robertson rehab continues
Injured INF Daniel Robertson was transferred to the 60-day disabled list earlier this week as he continues recovering from a thumb injury about a month ago. While the move ends his hope of returning before the end of the regular season, Robertson said he believes he can be activated if the team makes the playoffs.
"According to them, I would be (eligible)," Robertson said.
He has been working out.
"I'm keeping my legs in shape – running, throwing three times a week," he said. "I'm trying to stay tuned in and root these guys on and make some magic."
In the pipeline
Two Rays minor-leaguers — LHP Colin Poche and INF Nathaniel Lowe — were named to the first-team MLB Pipeline Prospect Team of the Year. Lowe, a 13th-round pick in 2016, had 27 homers this year combined in stops at Charlotte (Class A), Montgomery (Double A) and Durham (Triple A). He finished in the top 10 in the minors in seven hitting categories. Poche, the player to be named later in the Steven Souza Jr. trade with the Diamondbacks, was 5-0 at Durham in 40 relief appearances with a 0.82 ERA.
Triple-A Durham beat Toledo 4-2 Friday to take a 2-1 series lead, one win away from a return to the Governor's Cup. Double-A Montgomery fell 3-0 to the Jackson Generals to fall behind 2-1 in its best-of-five series. On Thursday, short-season Class A Hudson Valley advanced to the NY-Penn League championship series and Class A Bowling Green to the Midwest League East final.