1. Rays

Rays' Souza owns up to rookie struggles (w/video)

Steven Souza Jr. gets a high-five from third-base coach Charlie Montoyo after homering in the ninth inning.
Steven Souza Jr. gets a high-five from third-base coach Charlie Montoyo after homering in the ninth inning.
Published Sep. 25, 2015

BOSTON — The towering homer and three other hits Steven Souza Jr. logged in Wednesday's 6-2 win over the Red Sox won't do much to improve his feelings about a tough first season with the Rays he refers to as "a trial."

Brought in with much hype to replace Wil Myers and at the cost of two promising prospects (infielder Trea Turner, pitcher Joe Ross), Souza has struggled much of the year, hitting .222 with 16 homers and 38 RBIs in the 102 games he has played while serving two stints on the disabled list.

Souza, to his credit, puts the blame on himself.

"The pressure of coming over here and stuff, I tried to fend it off as much as I could, but I really didn't do a good job of handling it," he said. "It's like a dog stuck in a pound. I was always under the radar, and all of a sudden you let it out and I'm all over the radar, and you kind of don't know how to respond. I didn't do a good job of responding and being accountable to that stuff."

That manifested in many ways, taking Souza, 26, away from what worked for him during a stellar 2014 Triple-A season that capped his climb back since a personal and religious redemption that followed a tumultuous start to his pro career.

Most glaring was how he routinely tried to do too much.

"I was taking a load I didn't need to take," Souza said, "trying to carry the team and hit a homer every single pitch. That's just not realistic."

As telling was what he did when he was sitting on the couch.

Souza had rarely paid attention to baseball when he wasn't at the field, but now he was coming home and flipping around the TV to look in on how other players were performing and, to a more troubling extreme, how he measured up. His wife, Mikaela, asked what he was doing.

"I think I just got wrapped up in everything, in baseball, in what everybody else was doing," Souza said. "I got put in a pretty esteemed category of players out of the gate, and when everything was going good, it was fun to compare. And then as soon as a scuffle hit, comparing wasn't as fun anymore. … Comparing became disheartening."

Also, detrimental.

"It was like I was not performing up to that part, and I needed to do more. And it would just kind of add on," Souza said.

"I needed to find outlets and they were the wrong ones. … Instead of going home and spending time with my family and spending time with the Lord — those are the things I did most often in the past … but I didn't make it a priority to do that — I was consumed by what other people were doing, like he's hitting this, or he's struggling, too, okay, good."

Souza is confident he has learned from the experience and will be better for it, as well as being more comfortable with more time around the Rays, who improved to 74-78 with the win. The 4-for-5 game, after extensive pregame work, snapped an 0-for-10, and the homer was his first since July 4.

"There have been some times where I know I can do the type of things that make me bad and there are some things that I need to stick to that will make me click," he said.

"And through it all, remembering who I am and why I'm playing the game."