Rays Kevin Kiermaier gets ‘best news:’ No surgery on thumb, 10-15 day absence

Kiermaier feared the worst after spraining his left thumb sliding in first base on Saturday but MRI showed ligament intact.
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) walks off the field with a possible injury during the game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, July 20, 2019.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) walks off the field with a possible injury during the game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, July 20, 2019.
Published July 21

ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier was relieved, if not thrilled, to hear the left thumb he injured sliding headfirst into first base Saturday was only sprained, won’t need surgery, and likely to keep him out just a couple weeks rather than months.

“It’s the best news I could have received given what happened and what I’ve dealt with the last couple years,’’ he said. “If I have to miss maybe a week and a half or so … if I can be back as soon as I can, I’m the happiest man on the planet because I feel like I really dodged a bullet.’’

But while he said he regretted what happened from the risky maneuver — “That’s probably what a lot of people want to hear’’ — he made no apologies for why he did so.

Which isn’t, as some suggest, because he plays recklessly or hasn’t learned even after missing extended time the past three seasons due to injuries.

But which is, he said, because of how badly he wants to help the Rays win and get to the playoffs for the first time since his 2013 debut, and he saw this as a chance to spark his team and inspire his mates.

“I always want to remind people or reiterate that everything I do out on the field I do for a purpose,’’ Kiermaier said. “Right now we have a struggling team and things haven’t been going our way a whole lot lately and this is when I want to play harder, I want to play with more passion.

“I promise you, with all due respect to my teammates, no one in this room cares more than I do about winning.’’

Specifically in this case, trying to find a way to get some momentum for his team that was clinging to a 1-0 lead over the White Sox in the eighth inning.

Kiermaier, given the day off from starting somewhat for body maintenance, came in to play defense, then was leading off when he hit a grounder to first baseman Jose Abreu and was determined to beat him to the base for a rally-starting single.

Though there is no evidence that sliding headfirst gets you there quicker, and there is a list of players injured doing so, including Kiermaier, who tore a ligament in his right thumb going into second last season and missed 57 games, he made what he said was an instinctual move to try.

“We had a 1-0 lead right there and the way things are going for our team lately again, no lead has been too secure for us. That’s just how baseball goes at times,’’ he said.

“We have a struggling team and I’ll go above and beyond and make something happen. I don’t want to put my body on the line or do what I did (Saturday). While I’m running to first base I wasn’t thinking about sliding at all.

“But then I just blacked out for a second and I just did it, to be quite honest. … I didn’t want to do it. I did it. I regret it. But at the same time I’m going to be okay and I’m going to be back on the field sooner than later. Much sooner than later. And I can live with that.’’

Manager Kevin Cash said they are anticipating a short stint on the 10-day injured list, with Guillermo Heredia called up, but will have a better read on Kiermaier’s progress and likely return after he spends three days resting and icing the thumb.

The Rays know it’s important to keep Kiermaier, 29, on the field, given how he also missed 61 games in 2017, with a right hip fracture from sliding feet first into first, and 48 games in 2016 when he fractured his left hand diving for a ball.

But Cash said they appreciate his effort and can’t tell him to change how he plays.

“In the heat of the moment you’re going to do kind of what your instincts do; he’s a very instinctual player,’’ Cash said. “Wouldn’t want to take that from any player. It’s easy to say after the fact you didn’t want to do it because you’re hurt. If he doesn’t get hurt and he beat out a ball by sliding nobody says a word about it.’’

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.