Speaking Monday at Tropicana Field, only six days after he was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained left quad, Kevin Kiermaier said he was hopeful he’d be back on the field within a week.
The way Kiermaier’s recovery is progressing, it seems like he’s right on track to meet his optimistic projection.
Kiermaier took batting practice before the Rays’ series opener on Friday night at Yankee Stadium, and manager Kevin Cash said Tampa Bay’s center fielder is scheduled to participate in a simulated game on Saturday after doing so on Thursday at Tropicana Field. If all goes well, that could set up Kiermaier to return for Sunday’s series finale in the Bronx or during the Rays’ upcoming series in Kansas City.
“He feels really good,” Cash said Friday afternoon.
Kiermaier was eligible to come off the 10-day IL on Friday. He said Monday that whether he’s ready will essentially be determined by how he feels sprinting at 100 percent effort. He didn’t experience any discomfort at the start of the season or even immediately after the injury, saying he felt nothing at all except when he had to sprint during a game in Boston.
The Rays have managed Kiermaier’s absence by using Manuel Margot and Brett Phillips in center field, with Austin Meadows and Randy Arozarena mostly manning the corner spots. Phillips has been responsible for a handful of defensive highlights since his return from the 10-day IL, and Margot got the start in center for Friday’s opener at Yankee Stadium.
Focus on the field
Rays shortstop Willy Adames admitted Friday that there’s “a little bit of extra energy” every time they play the Yankees, but Tampa Bay is hoping to move beyond the frustrations the club felt when New York hit four batters — one each game, plus Meadows twice on Sunday — during last weekend’s series at Tropicana Field.
The history of purpose pitches between the two American League East rivals dates back several years, and it eventually reached a boiling point last September when Mike Brosseau dodged a 101 mph fastball near his head from Aroldis Chapman. That backstory, combined with several up-and-in pitches during their first series of the season, led the Rays to question whether the bad blood had carried over into this season.
“Me personally, I’m not thinking about that. And I don’t think that the team or the guys are thinking about it like that. So we just came here to win the games and do what we do best: win games,” Adames said. “The game will dictate what you can do. Obviously, you know, something happens, every action has a reaction.
“We just come here [with] the mentality to play the game hard and just try to win the games. But, you know, whatever happens, it happens in the game. We’re not planning anything. We just came here to play the game and win games.”
Cash also made it clear that the Rays’ focus was on winning, especially after losing three straight games and eight of their past 11.
“The mentality is that we’re 5-8 right now, and we’ve got to find a way to win. That’s ultimately what we’ve got to try to accomplish,” Cash said. “We’re a good team that is struggling a little bit. It’s early, but still saying that, we know how tough this division is and we want to do everything we can to kind of stay afloat here early on, even when you’re going through those rough patches during a season.”
Around the horn
• Brosseau, who doubled and homered on Thursday night, was in the starting lineup on Friday even with the Rays set to face two right-handed pitchers at the start of the game. Brosseau has typically been used against left-handed pitchers, but Tampa Bay’s recent struggles created a need for his bat in the lineup.
“We’re just trying to get the offense going a little bit,” Cash said. “Bross had a big night yesterday for us. We know that he brings a lot of energy, and more importantly he brings a lot of good at-bats and has shown the ability to be a part of us turning things around a little bit.”
• Tampa Bay added infield prospect Vidal Bruján, ranked No. 3 in the Rays’ system by MLB Pipeline; left-hander Dietrich Enns; right-handers Louis Head and David Hess and catcher Kevan Smith to their taxi squad for this six-game road trip. The Rays had to use three of the five taxi squad players on their first trip.
• The inclusion of Smith on the taxi squad is a good sign that he’s over the back issue that sidelined him late in Spring Training. Cash said Smith is ready if a need arises behind the plate.
• Tyler Glasnow, who will start Saturday’s game coming off a 14-strikeout gem, pitched well in two starts at Yankee Stadium last year, going 2-0 while allowing just two runs on four hits with 17 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.