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Rays' Kiermaier excels despite injured thumb

Kevin Kiermaier, celebrating his go-ahead home run with Rene Rivera, is batting .367 in 19 games since he sprained his right thumb.
Kevin Kiermaier, celebrating his go-ahead home run with Rene Rivera, is batting .367 in 19 games since he sprained his right thumb.
Published Aug. 31, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — For a guy taking a less-is-more approach with his swing due to a sprained right thumb, CF Kevin Kiermaier is sure hitting the ball well — and hard.

Kiermaier's sixth-inning go-ahead homer in the Rays' 3-2 win over the Royals on Sunday was his second in two games, clocking at 110 mph off the bat, per MLB's StatCast. His homer against the Royals on Saturday was measured at 111 mph, matching Steven Souza Jr. for the hardest hit by a Ray all season.

"I've had some good swings this past week and got some good backspin and found some gaps," Kiermaier said. "I'm swinging with a little bit of authority. My thumb is progressing, but I'm not upping my effort by any means, either. I'm just trying to stick with this approach and ride this approach out for the rest of the year."

In the 19 games since the injury, Kiermaier is hitting .367, raising his average to .261, with three homers.

"Hopefully this is a little bit of a learning experience for him," manager Kevin Cash said. "He's super talented. He's got plenty of power. Less is more, at times. I know that's kind of cliche and it gets old hearing that, but I think we're seeing a direct example of that right now. It's not comfortable for him right now, and he's not trying to do too much. It's paying off in huge dividends."

And just in case he strays, Cash, referencing Kiermaier's Saturday promotional item, said, "The plan is to basically send out an Outlaw figurine and bust his thumb in every series."

MAJORS CALL: Plans were still being finalized for Tuesday's roster expansion, but the Rays appear to be looking at about five additions. INF Richie Shaffer, INF Nick Franklin and C Luke Maile seem likely, with the possibility of OF Mikie Mahtook and at least one pitcher from the group of RH Andrew Bellatti, LH C.J. Riefenhauser, RH Kirby Yates and even LH Matt Moore. Others will be summoned later, possibly including top LHP prospect Blake Snell.

TWO-TIMER: Rookie RHP Nathan Karns logged his AL-high 19th start allowing two or fewer runs, second in the majors to Dodgers ace RHP Zack Greinke. Only two Rays pitchers have had more, LH David Price 22 in 2012 and RH James Shields 21 in 2011.

FIVE ALIVE: RHP Chris Archer takes the mound tonight in Baltimore making a pitch to stay on a regular schedule despite whatever changes the Rays may make to the rotation.

"I feel great," Archer said. "I'm hoping to get the ball every five days no matter what happens — off days, guys we're going to call up from (Triple-A) Durham. … I like giving the team the best chance to win. And between (RHP Jake Odorizzi) and I, I think we've pretty much established the whole season that we're capable of doing that. Hopefully the guys come up and can get some innings in, but I definitely want the ball every five days."

Archer, who has thrown 175 innings, is hoping to reach his goal of 200.

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NO TIME: An odd play in the home eighth was the result of pinch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera requesting time and plate umpire Clint Fagan not granting it. Cabrera started to step out of the box, then quickly stepped back, swung and grounded out. Cash said the confusion was Fagan saying something back to Cabrera about not granting time. "It happens," he said.

MEDICAL MATTERS: Souza (fractured left hand) progressed to hitting tossed baseballs, with a tentative plan to start a rehab assignment next weekend. … C Curt Casali (left hamstring strain) received a cortisone shot and has yet to start baseball activities.

MISCELLANY: The Rays are 23-23 in one-run games. … The Rays avoided what would have been their first seven-game season series sweep; they lost all six to the 2005 Marlins, 2005 Twins and 2003 Twins. … Cash took something of a risk in putting both catchers in the lineup, with Rene Rivera behind the plate and J.P. Arencibia at DH. … Rookie-level Princeton clinched an Appalachian League wild-card spot, marking the first back-to-back playoff berths in the franchise's 28 years.