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Rays’ Yandy Diaz starts to get locked in at the plate

The third baseman made strides as a hitter early in the season but struggled. Now he's getting the results.
The Rays' Yandy Diaz scores in front of Red Sox catcher Kevin Plawecki on a triple by Joey Wendle during the fifth inning on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Boston.
The Rays' Yandy Diaz scores in front of Red Sox catcher Kevin Plawecki on a triple by Joey Wendle during the fifth inning on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Boston. [ MICHAEL DWYER | AP ]
Published Aug. 14, 2020

The Rays emerged from their offensive struggles during this week’s four-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park, and no player may have benefited more than third baseman Yandy Diaz.

The 29-year-old saw his batting average jump 60 points thanks to the series, going 8-for-18 with four RBIs. Add in four walks and Diaz reached base in 12 of his 22 plate appearances in Boston.

“When he goes, we go,” centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said Friday of Diaz. “He is just a hit machine. He’s locked in now.”

Though Diaz struggled early in the season, he was still showing progress as a hitter. He was one of the team’s toughest outs and was its most patient hitter at the plate. After the Red Sox series, that’s starting to show in the stat line.

His .407 on-base percentage ranks sixth in the American League, and his walk rate (17.3 percent) and strikeout rate (13.6 percent) both rank among the top 10 percent in the league.

“I think it’s a sign of a really good hitter that got off to a slow start,” manager Kevin Cash said. “For struggling, still getting on base at that rate was really, really impressive.”

Diaz has done that while hitting fewer line drives and making less hard contact, though in Boston three of his hits came off the bat at velocities of 101 mph or higher. Diaz is still without a home run, but Cash said all signs point to the power coming.

“We all, as an industry, we obsess over power,” Cash said. “His power is going to come. The balls that he hit over the series in Boston were right on the screws, 100 mph-plus line drives. ... I think he needed to have some games like he did in Boston to allow him to go ahead and cut loose and anticipate that that’s going to start coming pretty soon.”

Lowe loves Buffalo

Second baseman Brandon Lowe should remember Sahlen Field well. The stadium in Buffalo, N.Y., is where the Blue Jays are playing their home games this season.

While playing for the Rays’ Triple-A Durham affiliate in 2018, Lowe went 7-for-17 with two doubles, three homers and five RBIs during a four-game series at Sahlen Field against the Buffalo Bison. In fact, Lowe homered in three consecutive games, July 17-19, in the series.

“I couldn’t tell you if that’s true, honestly,” Lowe said with a chuckle before Friday’s game.

This weekend is the second series in Buffalo for the Jays, who had to find a new home when Canada would not allow them to play in Toronto, concerned with their travel to and from the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Jays had less than three weeks to make Sahlen Field major-league ready.

Chirinos set to return Sunday

As the Rays had hoped, right-hander Yonny Chirinos is scheduled to make a quick recovery from triceps inflammation in his right arm, returning from the injured list to start Sunday’s series finale against the Jays.

Chirinos went on the IL a week ago Friday. Chirinos, who missed the first 16 days of summer camp after testing positive for COVID-19, threw 72 pitches in his most recent start on Aug. 2 in Baltimore. Cash said he didn’t know how many pitches Chirinos could throw Sunday.

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“Everybody did a good job of catching it pretty quick, recognizing the benefit of a skip start,” Cash said. “And hopefully that’s what it is now. He’s not going to be able to go out there and provide 100 pitches for us, but we can start his build-up, and I don’t think he lost too much on the front side with what he was already doing ... from his last start in Baltimore.”

Quick hits

Right-hander Charlie Morton (right shoulder inflammation) threw long toss from 150 feet out and is slated to throw a bullpen session Saturday or Sunday, but it’s still too early to know whether he can return to the team next week. Morton is eligible to come off the injured list Wednesday. … The Rays added infield prospect Xavier Edwards to their alternate-site roster in Port Charlotte. ... Saturday’s game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Florida instead of Fox Sports Sun due to a conflict with Game 3 of the Lightning’s playoff game against Columbus.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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