Rays notes: With Wil Myers' return, outfield depth exists in abundance
Wil Myers' return to the lineup Wednesday presents Joe Maddon with an interesting question: What will he do with an abundance of outfield options?
Matt Joyce (left), Desmond Jennings (center) and Kevin Kiermaier (right) are three of the Rays' options for the outfield.
Jeff Curry / USA TODAY Sports
By Andrew Astleford
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. --Wil Myers' return to the lineup Wednesday presents Joe Maddon with an interesting question: What will he do with an abundance of outfield options?
Kevin Kiermaier has become a staple in the Tampa BayRays' outfield, particularly at Myers' usual right-field spot, and Desmond Jennings is the Rays' answer in center. Matt Joyce has received time in left since David DeJesus was placed on the disabled list June 19 with a fractured left hand, but Joyce could become an option for designated hitter when DeJesus returns.
Myers will serve as the Rays' DH until his body is ready for defensive work again. Tampa Bay, at some point after DeJesus returns, must make a choice about what to do with its outfield possibilities. Maddon said he'll approach the situation at the proper time.
"We'll figure out how to do it," the manager said. "And again, I think if we could continue to hang tight and give guys rest, which we'll be able to do with more viable options, that should be able to benefit us even more toward the end."
Kiermaier should be one of the discussion's more intriguing figures. Maddon has praised Kiermaier for an aggressive style of play. But entering Wednesday, the player had hit just .119 (7 for 59) in 19 games since July 29. He entered the second game of a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers in a 0-for-7 hitting slump.
"Just trying to get comfortable in there again," said Kiermaier, who's batting .264 with nine home runs and 29 RBI this season. "I know I've been bad the last two weeks plus, and I don't know what caused it. Just thinking a little too much in there and putting too much pressure on myself.
"It will be interesting to see what happens. Joe and the whole front office have a plan with what they want to do. ... They haven't told me what's going to go on yet, but it's good to have (Myers) back in the lineup."
Maddon is optimistic that a plan will be worked out.
"It's one of those things that it's a nice problem to have," he said. "You just try to do your best to figure it out when it occurs. It hasn't happened yet."
ZOBRIST HAS NO ILL WILL TOWARD TIGERS
Tigers utility man Ben Zobrist didn't consider being hit by Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer on Tuesday to be a sign that an old tiff was rekindled.
Zobrist was part of a dramatic weekend between Detroit and Tampa Bay from June 28-30, 2013, at Tropicana Field, when Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello plunked Zobrist with a fastball in the bottom of the first inning as supposed retaliation for then-Rays closer Fernando Rodney brushing back Miguel Cabrera from home plate the night before.
Yet Zobrist, who was hit on his back side in the bottom of the first Tuesday, considers the latest incident to be the result of a simple lack of command.
"At the time I didn't know if there was anything behind it," Zobrist said. "But it hit me pretty hard. So I was kind of like, 'Ah.' That's not fun, necessarily. Then he didn't seem to have a lot of control against Matt (Joyce) the next at-bat either, as far as the fastball in. So it looked like he was yanking the fastball a bit early on. ... I wouldn't assume there was anything behind it."
Maddon didn't draw any deep meaning from Scherzer's pitch either. The manager considers an old issue over for good.
"I didn't think there was anything to it," Maddon said. "Scherzer, early on, was jerking some pitches inside on the lefties. He did the same thing with Matty Joyce. I don't think there's anything there. I don't want to believe there's anything there. Last year, I'd like to believe that's totally over with."
The Rays will face their former ace, Tigers left-hander David Price, on Thursday afternoon in the series finale at Tropicana Field. As expected, few who used to share a clubhouse with him before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline are eager for the odd experience.
"I think we all would have liked to miss him because of the type of pitcher that we know he is," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "And I think just the closeness from the time he was traded until now is what makes it sort of unique."
The uniqueness will be part of the intrigue, but even Price admitted Tuesday that there should be no secrets about what he'll offer Rays hitters.
Among the possible names he could face Thursday, he has encountered just two: Shortstop Yunel Escobar and catcher Jose Molina. Molina has hit .267 (4 for 15) with six strikeouts against Price, and Escobar has a .261 batting average (6 for 23) with one home run and two RBI in previous matchups against the pitcher.
"It's going to be a challenge for us," Myers said. "Obviously, he's a great pitcher."
--- Maddon had creative things to say about how baseball has slanted heavily toward pitching and defense. He said he'd like to improve hitters' peripheral vision at the plate through training to develop more offensive strength.
"Whatever helps the hitter to see the ball sooner and better would be the next level of being able to, I think, fine-tune your hitters," he said.
--- The Rays began Wednesday seven games behind Detroit and the Seattle Mariners in the race for the American League's second wild-card spot. In addition, Tampa Bay must pass three other teams to gain a playoff berth: the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians. Three years ago on this date, the Rays trailed just the Boston Red Sox (8 1/2 games) for the AL's wild-card spot. Tampa Bay went 24-15 the rest of the way to pass Boston on the regular season's final day.
--- PGA Tour golfer John Daly threw out a ceremonial first pitch Wednesday. Daly, who won the 1991 PGA Championship and the 1995 British Open Championship, has lived in nearby Clearwater since 2009. He considers himself a Rays fan.