Advertisement

New approach puts Rays' Jake Elmore on upswing

Jake Elmore kept the Rays in Tuesday's loss to Seattle with two two-out hits that scored three runs. His four RBIs set a career high. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Jake Elmore kept the Rays in Tuesday's loss to Seattle with two two-out hits that scored three runs. His four RBIs set a career high. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Published May 29, 2015

BALTIMORE — Rays infielder/outfielder Jake Elmore found his way to the majors thanks in part to two easy-to-overlook traits — his ability to work counts and play practically any position on the field.

So perhaps it comes as a surprise that after being let go by three clubs since July, Elmore determined that it was time to ditch one of those philosophies.

"When the season started, I was like, 'You know what, I'm done taking fastballs for strikes,' " Elmore said. "I really made it a point. If it's not painted on the corner, if it's a good pitch to hit, I'm swinging."

And lately, if he's swinging, he's hitting. The 27-year-old kept the Rays in Tuesday's loss to Seattle with two two-out hits that scored three runs. His four RBIs set a career high.

For most of his career before this season, Elmore approached the plate trying to get deep into counts. He said he felt like he was doing a disservice to his team if he got out on the first pitch. He grew comfortable in the minors in two-strike situations and ranked fourth in the Pacific Coast League with 74 walks in 2012, despite spending 30 games in the majors with Arizona.

But after batting .221 in 87 major-league games with the Diamondbacks, Astros and Reds over the past three seasons, Elmore figured he had to tweak his mentality.

"Once you get to the big leagues, you realize you can't just get two strikes, because guys can put you away," Elmore said. "You really have to make that mental change."

For Elmore, the change was to be more aggressive and attack the first good fastball he saw. The results have been impressive.

Before going 0-for-3 Wednesday, Elmore had reached base in seven consecutive plate appearances. He had a 10-game hitting streak in Triple-A Durham that helped him get called back up to the Rays on Monday.

Elmore's other strength — his versatility — didn't hurt, either. He has played every position but first base in the majors, giving manager Kevin Cash some much-needed flexibility in the lineup, especially with injuries to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (groin) and outfielders Steven Souza Jr. (wrist) and Kevin Kiermaier (ankle) shortening the bench.

When Kiermaier was hit by a pitch and left Wednesday's game, Cash was able to move Elmore from second base to leftfield.

"The versatility's huge," Cash said.

Cash said he feels confident enough in that versatility that he approached Elmore on Tuesday night to see if he would move to catcher, if Bobby Wilson had gotten on base late. Elmore's response, according to Cash: "Heck yeah, I can do it."

For his part, Elmore said he feels comfortable enough to do everything but pitch — although he threw a scoreless inning for Houston two years ago and could do it again, if asked.

"I hope that creates value," Elmore said. "Any way I can help the team, I'm all for it."

Want more than just the box score?

Want more than just the box score?

Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter

Columnist John Romano will send the latest Rays insights and analysis to keep you updated weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

As much as Cash values Elmore's versatility, he said he appreciates the newest wrinkle to his utility player's game, too.

"He's getting big hits," Cash said. "That always helps."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.