PORT CHARLOTTE - Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier made clear this morning how determined he is to rebound from a poor and injury shortened 2018 season.
"I’m very motivated,'' Kiermaier said before today’s workout in Port Charlotte. "I always play with that chip on my shoulder no matter what. But having the year the way I did last year, injuries and bad performance, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger chip on my shoulder, to go out and show that I’m still a really damn good player and I’m going to go prove that.''
Kiermaier, 28, was limited to a career-low 88 games, missing two months with a torn right thumb ligament, and didn’t play well when he was on the field, posting a .217 average and .652 OPS, though he did win the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award for centerfielders, as the Rays won 90 games.
"This year I’d like to contribute a lot more, help the team win anyway I can,'' he said. "It’s gratification for myself knowing I can compete and still play. Last year, as trying as it was, it was a great learning experience for me. And I’m never going to let that happen to me again.''
Kiermaier said among the things he learned was not to press and to be more open to making adjustments.
"For me effort level is the biggest thing,'' he said. "When I try, I’m not a good player. When I press, I’m not good. When I just let the game come to me and I don’t try to do too much and just let everything happen, I’m very effective in all facets of the game. And that’s what I plan on showcasing this spring and throughout the whole season. That is my plan and I’m going to stick to it. I hope it’s a talking point all season, that this guy wasn’t just talking the talk during spring, I’m going to make it happen. I promise you.''
And he knows, having missed chunks of time the last three seasons, there are skeptics.
" I’m going to sound like a broken record all spring: "I’ve got a lot to prove to you guys, to my teammates, to fans, everyone,'' he said. "I love where I’m at right now. I couldn’t ask for anything else. Now it’s just my part to go execute and maybe win some hearts back from my performance last year. That’s okay. I get it. I’m a fan of Purdue and sometimes they make me hate them for times, but they always win me back. So for me, a huge rebound year for me. ... Personally, I’m so happy with what we did as a team last year, but I’d like to, and I will, make much of a contribution this year. I promise you that. And I’m going to go back that up.''
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Kiermaier said he has “a whole new perspective on life" this season after the “life-changing” experience of he and wife Marissa having their first child, son Karter James Kiermaier. "What a blessing that has been,'' he said. "There’s a lot of things that matter but there’s nothing that matters more in life than my wife and my baby.''
Though always in great shape, Kiermaier said toned up even more after improving his diet along with working out at Tampa’s Diesel Fitness, coming in and planning to play at 205 pounds, down 10-15 from the last several years.
"I feel better than ever,'' Kiermaier said. "I know every baseball player says that every year; I say it with a straight face and I know I’m not lying through my teeth right now. My body feels the best it ever has.''