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Rays’ Mike Zunino, Manuel Margot now swinging hot bats

Notebook | After cool starts, the veterans appear to be finding their groove. Also, a Brendan McKay surgery update.
Rays centerfielder Manuel Margot celebrates with teammates after defeating the Yankees on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in New York. The Rays won 10-5.
Rays centerfielder Manuel Margot celebrates with teammates after defeating the Yankees on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in New York. The Rays won 10-5. [ ADAM HUNGER | AP ]
Published Aug. 21, 2020

Two of the coldest Rays hitters to start the season finished the road trip on hot streaks.

Catcher Mike Zunino was hitting .088 (3-for-34) with one homer and one RBI in his first 14 games of the season, then went 3-for-17, all homers, knocking in eight RBIs in his past five games. Overall, he is hitting .118 with four homers, nine RBIs and a .597 OPS.

More impressively, outfielder Manuel Margot went from hitting .091 (3-for-33) in his first 11 games, including two extra-base hits and no RBIs, to hitting .538 (14-for-26) with three extra-base hits and four RBIs in nine games on the trip. Overall, he is hitting .288 with a .717 OPS.

Though the Rays, who scored 10 or more runs for the third time, lead the American League with 141, they can use contributions from all.

“I’m just trying to fine-tune my approach, trying to take my mind off the mechanic end and just go with the approach,’' Zunino said via Zoom video call from New York. “I feel like I’ve seen the ball slightly better as of late. So I hope I can continue to build off that, stay disciplined and continue to put some good swings on the ball.’'

Margot was adjusting to a new team and a new league. He also had some off-field issues to deal with as his father died Aug. 4 after a weekslong battle with COVID-19, and Margot went home to the Dominican Republic to attend to matters.

He said rejoining the team and refocusing on baseball was a blessing.

“Thanks to God, this trip helped me a lot,’' he said via translator Manny Navarro. “Since I was not having a good time, I tried to separate the personal with the game.’'

All the Rays are happy to seem him smile again.

“Talking about resilience, he had a rough start to the season, both on and off the field,’' infielder Joey Wendle said. “To see him kind of storm back like he has — he’s had some big at-bats, he’s been on base for us a lot, he’s been rock solid for us for the past (couple) weeks. It’s been fun to watch him. He’s a guy that’s easy to root for, so I think everybody is happy for him right now.’'

McKay absence might be extended

Brendan McKay had a small tear in his labrum repaired during Wednesday’s shoulder surgery by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. Now it seems doubtful he will be ready to resume pitching by the start of spring training, as the Rays had hoped, though a specific timeline is not yet clear. “I heard it was a successful procedure,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “Cleaned some stuff up. Rotator cuff looked good. We’re optimistic with now his rehab and his recovery. We’ll see how he comes through it.’‘ Among their six other injured pitchers, Yonny Chirinos, who went back on the injured list Wednesday with a potentially concerning elbow issue, will be checked by team doctors, and the Rays will talk Friday with Charlie Morton, who seems on track to come off the injured list and start this weekend.

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Beeks, the savior?

Jalen Beeks found himself in an unusual but exciting situation Wednesday night, summoned to get the final two outs in the ninth with a 6-3 lead and the Yankees threatening with two on. The converted starter responded well, striking out Miguel Andujar and Thairo Estrada for what he called his “first real save.’' Beeks showed increased velocity during his outing, hitting 96.2 mph, and some rare emotion afterward, slapping his glove. “It was pure adrenaline,’' he said Thursday. “I think I threw two (pitches) in the bullpen, and I was ready. … That’s probably the most emotion I’ve shown on a mound in a long time. And I know it wasn’t much — I’m pretty low key in general — but obviously I was excited. … Just to get that opportunity was awesome.’' Beeks, who has been used this season mostly in a midgame, multi-inning role, got his first save working the last three innings with an 8-0 lead in an April 2019 game. On Wednesday, in a key game against the AL East leader, at Yankee Stadium (even without fans), in a most high-leverage moment was something different. And special. “That’s going to be one I remember for forever,’' Beeks said.

Numbers of the day

9, 7

Number of pitchers to start and get saves for the Rays in the first 26 games.

Miscellany

The Rays are a majors-best 13-3 since ending a five-game losing streak. ... Brandon Lowe, who was not in the starting lineup, saw his hitting streak end at 10 games, though a walk as a pinch-hitter extended his on-base streak to 11. .. Twenty of Yandy Diaz’s first 22 hits were singles; Thursday he had a double and his first homer. … After making 12 errors in their first 11 games, the Rays have made only three in their past 15. … Other teams to sweep three-or-more game series at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium on the same road trip: 1990 A’s, 1971 A’s, 1965 Orioles, 1953 White Sox.