PORT CHARLOTTE — Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, looking even more in shape than usual (if that’s possible), reported early to camp Friday and was eager to get on the field.
The challenge for the Rays, after a third straight injury-shortened season, is keeping him there.
“We’re a different team when KK is on the field,” manager Kevin Cash said. “When he’s not, we miss him. Obviously, our defense is different. Our offense, when he’s going right, he’s got the ability to really ignite us.
“Last year, we look at it, it was a broken year for KK in the fact that it’s not easy to come out of spring training, get banged up, miss time, try to re-start everything. It was like he was playing catchup, swimming uphill the entire time.”
Kiermaier has played only 291 of 486 games the last three seasons due to a series of what Cash called “fluke” injuries: broken left wrist in 2016, fractured right hip in 2017, torn right thumb ligament in 2018. “We’ll do everything we can to avoid them,” Cash said.
Brandon Lowe ordered his own glove, sought advice from veterans such as Justin Smoak and studied the fundamentals. Friday he got on the dirt to start actually working at learning to play first base. Lowe, who played second and outfield after his Aug. 4 call up, welcomes the opportunity, having played first in youth leagues: “If it gets me on the field and it gets me at-bats, I’m all for it.”
The Rays will look at Lowe and Ji-Man Choi, both lefty swingers, to see who pairs best with Yandy Diaz at first. Cash said he expects Lowe to be a quick study based on the athleticism he showed last year. “We’ve got to give him a little bit of time to work on the little nuances, the footwork and stuff like that,’’ he said.
• Reliever Chaz Roe, sidelined coming into camp due to a tweaked back, played catch Friday and will soon start throwing with the other pitchers. “No concern whatsoever,” Cash said.
• Infielder Daniel Roberston had no issues or limitations during off-season workouts from his Aug. 3 season-ending left thumb injury and is excited to get back on the field given the success he’d had. “Obviously the injury was a bummer but I got a solid foundation and feel I’m even more equipped for this year,” he said. “Just got to stay healthy.”
• Players on the 40-man roster were greeted Friday with their first MLB drug test of the spring.
• Cash and six players are set for the annual BaseBALL Dinner & Auction benefitting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte County, 6 p.m., Saturday at the stadium. Tickets are $125, call (305) 494-2954.
Number of the day
61 Players, of 66 on the roster, who reported early to Rays camp. Still to come: DH Ji-Man Choi; infielders Yandy Diaz, Lucius Fox; outfielders Tommy Pham, Jesus Sanchez.
The workout for pitchers and catchers starts at 10:30 a.m. and lasts 2-2 ½ hours at the Charlotte Sports Park (2300 El Jobean Road). For information: (941) 235-5025.