Rays Tales: Three veterans helping in playoff push

Published Aug. 30, 2015

As much as the Rays are typically built around young players, they have added, via various circumstances, three veterans who are in position to play key roles down the stretch — C J.P. Arencibia, OF/1B Daniel Nava and OF Grady Sizemore.

"These guys know what it's like to play in big games," Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "They come to the park ready to do whatever is needed to win."

Each has come to the team with some, in Sizemore's case quite a bit of, success elsewhere and hopes to keep playing. Plus, each has something of an interesting background:

J.P. Arencibia, catcher

Age: 29

Stats with Rays: .000, 0 HR, 1 RBI in 3 games

Pro career: 2007 first-round pick made it to majors in 2010 (debuting with a two-homer, four-hit game vs. Rays). Played three full seasons with Blue Jays, averaging 21 homers and 63 RBIs but hitting .214. Nontendered after 2013. Split last season between Triple-A Round Rock and Rangers, hitting .177 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 63 big-league games.

How he got here: Picked Orioles over Rays this offseason but released at end of spring training. Signed with Rays' Triple-A Durham team, hit .227 with International League-leading 22 homers and 65 RBIs in 99 games. Called up Wednesday when Curt Casali went on disabled list. "I made the wrong decision (in the offseason)," Arencibia said. "The way I look at it, I am where I should have been, it just took a little bit longer of a path than I would have enjoyed."

Key juncture: Arencibia was off to a strong start in 2013, hitting 15 homers by mid June (with a .222 average). But then he got hurt, started struggling, tweeted and said a few things about his critics (who included two team broadcasters) and ended up getting nontendered. He felt that experience carried over to a bad start to 2014, when he signed with Texas and got a two-month demotion to Triple A. "Ultimately it was no one's fault but myself," he said. "It's just the pressure of the game, trying to prove you're still worthy. It's more of a mental battle than anything. I didn't just change as a player. There's a lot of sleepless nights, and there's things that go unaccounted for. I was able to go down last year and get away from it, and then do well when I came back."

Headline news: Was the first player since at least 1900 to have four hits with two homers in his big-league debut.

Brush with celebrity: Arencibia is married to Kimberly Perry, lead singer of award-winning country group the Band Perry. A fan of her music and videos, he arranged to be part of a meet-and-greet after her 2012 Florida Strawberry Festival show in Plant City, and they hit it off from there, marrying last June on an off day. Hectic schedules can make it tough, especially with her band launching a new album; they met up last week for their first day together in six weeks. "I definitely married up," Arencibia said. "She's a great girl. She helps me immensely as a person, as a player, as a husband. She makes me a better person altogether."

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Daniel Nava, outfield/first base

Age: 32

Stats with Rays: .282, 1 HR, 1 RBI in 16 games, .391 on-base percentage.

Pro career: Signed with Red Sox in January 2008 out of independent league, made it to majors by June 2010, returned for most of 2012-14, hitting .273 with 23 homers and 162 RBIs in 295 games.

How he got here: Claimed on waivers by Rays on Aug. 5 after being designated for assignment by Red Sox, having missed nearly two months with a thumb sprain.

Key junctures: An underdog from the start, Nava worked hard to make and take advantage of several breaks. Despite growing from 4 feet 8 and 70-some pounds as a high school freshman to 5-7, 160 as a senior, Nava was told to forget playing college ball at Santa Clara due to his size and became the team equipment manager. But after another growth spurt (close to his current 5-11, 200), he tried again, transferring to College of San Mateo and becoming a junior college All-American, then went back to Santa Clara on scholarship and hit .395. "I had resigned myself to not playing so when (I grew again), it was a surprise," he said. "If I didn't leave Santa Clara, I wouldn't have played again, or at least I don't know how it would have happened." His resolve was tested again when he wasn't drafted nor signed anywhere, but after being cut once, he caught on with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden League, winning the 2007 league MVP award. The Red Sox bought his contract for $1 and sent him, at age 25, to Class A ball, where he hit .341 and started the track to the majors. "I'm grateful that things have worked out the way they have," he said. "All along I really just wanted a chance to play someplace. Each level along the way, it wasn't like big leagues or bust. I just wanted to play."

Headline news: One of two players in MLB history to hit a grand slam on first pitch he saw in majors, off Philadelphia's Joe Blanton in June 2010.

Brush with celebrity: Would regularly leave a ticket via the player pass list for Fox broadcaster Erin Andrews, who never showed. "It was a joke I did in the minors to lighten the clubhouse up, and then it got taken out of context that I did it all the time," said Nava, now married. "I don't even know her, I don't even care about her or anything like that, I'm way beyond that."

Grady Sizemore, outfield

Age: 32

Stats with Rays: .228, 6 HR, 14 RBIs in 28 games, .727 OPS

Pro career: Acquired by Indians as Class A prospect in June 2002 Bartolo Colon trade, made it to majors by July 2004. Became one of game's best all-around players, mixing power, speed and grace, making 2006-07-08 All-Star teams with three top 12 AL MVP finishes. Series of knee, back, elbow and abdominal injuries limited production starting in 2009 and forced him to miss 2012-13 seasons. Started comeback with Red Sox in 2014, got released, finished with Phillies.

How he got here: Signed minor-league deal June 15 after being released by Phillies, went from Class A to majors to Triple A and back to Rays on Aug. 1.

Key juncture: The initial deal seemed minor, giving Sizemore the opportunity to keep playing and the Rays Triple-A depth, with only spot big-league duty envisioned. But injuries and the David DeJesus trade created an opportunity for regular playing time, and he has taken advantage, starting 16 of the past 24 games. "When we got him we thought this was probably going to be a three- or four-day deal (in the majors)," manager Kevin Cash said. "But he's been huge for us. I was fortunate enough to get to see Grady play firsthand and watch him when he was really the elite player, and it's pretty special how he's fought through a lot of injuries and where he's at right now."

Headline news: In 2008 he became the 10th AL member of the 30-30 club, hitting 33 homers while swiping 38 bases, making third All-Star team and winning second Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger Award.

Brush with celebrity: Immensely popular during breakout seasons with Indians, spawning Grady's Ladies and Sizemore Girls fan clubs, websites and Twitter accounts, plus a hot-selling T-shirt emblazoned with "Mrs. Sizemore."

Short stops

• As tired of a topic as attendance is, when a supposedly important three-game series with the Twins draws a total of 28,212, there is going to be talk. Through Friday, the Rays are averaging 15,558 (less than half the average of the other 29 teams, 31,369) and are on a pace for just 1.26 million, which would be their lowest since 2005 and fourth-worst overall.

• Could there be a further brain drain coming? Two of the Rays' top baseball ops execs, Chaim Bloom and Matt Arnold, have been media-speculated as candidates for the Brewers GM job and, along with Erik Neander, might pop up elsewhere with a half-dozen teams looking.

Rays rumblings

Given the "uncertainty" the Rays acknowledge over OF Desmond Jennings' latest left knee issue, why wouldn't he share his explanation with the media — and thus fans? … Not that it carries any actual weight, but as a Hall of Famer and MLB Network analyst (and, technically, working for the teams), Pedro Martinez has an awfully large platform to be joining the Rays-future conversation in tweeting, "I would love for the Tampa Bay team to go to Montreal!!" … Among the season's biggest surprises, good and bad: Logan Forsythe tied for the team home-run lead in late August — with 15. … OF David DeJesus is hitting .125 with the Angels and barely playing after losing his platoon job. … RHP Chris Archer wrote a typically thoughtful piece for site on having "a personal legend." … With all that Ben Zobrist has missed about being a Ray, he said "I don't miss the (Trop) turf. The turf kind of hurts your body as you get older." … TV man Dewayne Staats' book, Position to Win, written with Dave Scheiber, has been among's top new baseball releases.