ST. PETERSBURG — A few months ago, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena could not have felt more alone.
The 25-year-old from Cuba was cooped up in a St. Petersburg hotel room, diagnosed with COVID-19 (although asymptomatic), unable to get a negative test, and watching his season slip away.
Now he’s really going places — to the American League Division Series in San Diego — where a national audience will continue to discover his name (ah-row-sah-RAY-nah).
"For the short time he has been here, for a month, (the reaction from the outside) is very much, ‘Who is that guy?’ " manager Kevin Cash said. “There will be a point in his career where people are not going to say (that), because he’s going to show consistently that he’s really good.”
Arozarena showed it again Wednesday.
He was 3-for-4 with two doubles — reaching base four times and scoring twice — as the Rays defeated the Blue Jays 8-2 and completed a two-game sweep in the AL Wild Card Series at Tropicana Field.
“Ever since I got traded over, it has been a very close-knit, family like environment, and I felt very comfortable,” said Arozarena, via translator Manny Navarro. “As far as the baseball side of things, I just let it be in God’s hands. I feel very relaxed.”
Arozarena was acquired Jan. 9 from the Cardinals, along with Jose Martinez in a package that included Rays pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore. On Aug. 30, the Rays traded Martinez to the Cubs to clear playing time for Arozarena. In 23 regular-season games since his callup, Arozarena batted .281 with seven home runs, 11 RBIs, four stolen bases and a 1.023 OPS.
In Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the Jays in Game 1, he scored the game’s first run after a liner to the rightfield gap that he transformed into a triple.
On Wednesday, the hit show continued.
“He doesn’t say much, but he’s a sparkplug in our lineup,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “The way he has been going of late, he has carried us in some games. You can always count on quality at-bats. He puts pressure on guys on the bases. He just brings a lot of dynamics to our lineup.”
“He has easy bat speed,” hitting coach Chad Mottola said. “He has hit some fastballs off the bench that we didn’t touch all game, and he’s hitting home runs off them.”
Arozarena’s combination of power, speed and defense in spring training caught the eye of Cash, who called him possibly the most impressive-looking player in Port Charlotte. That momentum was halted by the coronavirus shutdown. When the team reconvened for Spring 2.0, Arozarena was diagnosed with the virus.
He made good use of the down time. He learned to cook (mostly a healthy version of chicken and rice) and did 300 pushups a day. He added 15 pounds of muscle, up to 197 on his 5-foot-11 frame, and it has paid off with power.
“No doubt, he’s exciting to watch,” Cash said.
Particularly when he’s on the move. When Arozarena legged out his triple, and when he went from first to third on Wednesday, he showed his trademark: his batting helmet flew off.
“It always falls off,” Arozarena said. “I think that’s a sign I’m always running hard on the bases.”
He paused and added with a laugh, “If it doesn’t fall off, it’s because I struck out.”
Arozarena said he has been getting feedback from family and friends in Cuba who have watched him play. The stage is about to get a lot bigger.
And it’s a homecoming of sorts.
Arozarena resides in Tijuana, Mexico — just across the border from San Diego. But where does he feel most at home? In the Rays lineup. That is getting more clear by the day.