State of the Rays: Wil Myers continues uncommon surge

There are themes that arise when discussing Wil Myers, mostly complimentary, that hint at his high potential. Observers, both inside and outside the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, praise his veteran-like approach that makes the game’s complexities appear simple.
 
He is young but aware, inexperienced but controlled.
 
The more Myers produces in his short major-league career, however, the more it seems the Rays were savvy in securing his talent for what could become a notable career. As Evan Longoria has slumped (he hit .194 and struck out a season-high 37 times in July), Myers has continued an ascent that has started whispers about him possibly competing for American League Rookie of the Year honors.
 
Confidence has been Myers’ greatest trait since his promotion in June. In 39 games, he has hit .329 with eight home runs and 30 RBI. Meanwhile, his recent production has lifted him to another standard: Since the All-Star break’s end, he leads the majors in batting average (.417), is tied for first in home runs (five) and is second in RBI (15).
 
On Saturday night, Myers added his first walk-off hit in the majors to his resume, when he singled to left in the Rays’ 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants in the 10th inning. On Sunday, in the Rays’ 4-3 over the Giants, he smacked a 405-foot, two-run home run to left field in the first that drew the question afterward, “Was yesterday’s walk-off hit or today’s home run more fun?”
 
Now, little appears unpleasant for Myers, the good times in ample supply. The Rays are the largest benefactor.
 
“You can’t deny that,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said Sunday, when asked if Myers has energized the lineup. “Hitting in the middle of the batting order — some of the guys have been struggling a bit and he’s really kind of picked us up. … Wil has really done a nice job, again, in this very low-key manner that he does things.
 
“He’s not overwhelmed.”
 
In time, Myers’ national profile will grow. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ rookie phenom, Yasiel Puig, has received more attention, but given the Rays’ laissez-faire culture, that is fine by them. As early as spring training, it was known that Myers would draw Longoria-like fascination one day because of his background and the cost paid to acquire him.
 
But if Puig embodies L.A. flash and charisma with a touch of controversy, Myers is a fine reflection of his region as well: Comfortable and cool. That complexion is one reason to credit for his ability to handle the majors’ demands as well as he has so far. That demeanor, if refined, could allow him to grow into a dangerous, consistent hitter to complement Longoria in the heart of the lineup for years to come.
 
“The celebration was pretty crazy,” Myers said after his game-ending hit Saturday. “First time I’ve had anything like that before. … It’s just a good team win. I think the biggest thing about that game is (closer Fernando) Rodney coming in and closing the door after that leadoff double and especially (outfielder) Desmond (Jennings) getting that leadoff walk.”
 
Myers’ recent production hints at something large to come. He is only 22 years old, but he has lifted himself among some notable names. Since 1916, only eight players have equaled his eight home runs, 50 hits and 30 RBI through his first 39 career games: Ryan Braun (2007), Jeff Francoeur (2005), Albert Pujols (2001), Wally Joyner (1987), Orlando Cepeda (1958), Ken Keltner (1938), Buzz Arlett (1931) and Mandy Brooks (1925).
 
The bat speed is uncommon. The baseball maturity is beyond his years. He has hit safely in 14 of 15 games played since July 13, all the more important as Longoria has strained to regain his expected form.
 
Where will this arc lead? Possibly there will be a memorable result sooner rather than later. For Myers, it was expected that a learning curve would be required to acclimate himself at this level. But his hot July (he hit .352 with four home runs and 18 RBI) and a strong August start suggest his time is now.
 
If the moment is right, why expect anything less?
 
Young but aware, green but gifted.
 
What’s Hot
 
Myers has lived a strong streak, but infielder Ben Zobrist has hit well too. He went 9 for 22 with four RBI in six games from July 29-Aug. 4, only striking out twice in the span.
 
Zobrist tailed off somewhat from a season-high batting average of .314 in June, but there seems to be little to worry about. He hit .281 for July, and he has seen his total rise from .266 on July 23 to .276 after Sunday. He went 0 for 3 Sunday with two walks, snapping an eight-game hitting streak.
 
What’s Not
 
These are uncommon times for Longoria. Usually the most reliable bat in the Rays’ lineup, he has turned cold since July. The slide continued this past week, when he hit 3 for 24 with 12 strikeouts to only three walks in six games from July 29-Aug. 4.
 
The Rays remain confident in Longoria, and the three-time All-Star’s past suggests he will recover. Still, the strikeouts are worrisome. He had a season-high 37 in July, a trend both the Rays and Longoria would like to see reversed soon.
 
Quotes of the week
 
“I said there was a lot of room for improvement after last year and this is what I was talking about. I’m in command of four pitches right now as opposed to two last year. It’s fun.”
— Left-hander David Price, after throwing nine innings and allowing one run and five hits in the Rays’ 2-1 victory over the Giants on Saturday at Tropicana Field. He has pitched nine innings four times since returning from the disabled list (strained left triceps) on July 2.
 
“Got a good pitch to hit. Bases loaded is a pretty easy situation to hit in honestly — bases loaded, no outs, just put the ball in play up the middle.”
— Myers, after his game-ending single to left field in the 10th inning of the Rays’ victory over the Giants on Saturday. The play was Myers’ first career game-ending hit in the majors.
 
“It was relief in general. I got the ball. I saved the ball. … Obviously, it was a huge confidence booster.”
— Longoria, after an RBI single to left field in the fifth inning that scored Sam Fuld from second in the Rays’ 4-3 victory over the Giants on Sunday. The hit was the first for Longoria during the Rays’ five-game homestand, and it snapped a 0-for-19 skid.
 
Numbers game
 
11-0-2: Rays’ series record since they lost two of three games against the Boston Red Sox from June 18-19 at Fenway Park. Tampa Bay owns the American League’s second-best record and trails Boston by one game.
 
3: Series played between the Rays and Giants throughout history. In head-to-head matchups, the Rays lead 5-4.
 
2: Sellouts this season at Tropicana Field, after 34,078 attended the Rays’ victory over the Giants on Sunday. Tampa Bay’s last non-Opening Day sellout was April 7, 2012, against the New York Yankees, and the Rays are 48-16 when playing before regular-season home crowds of 30,000 or more.
 
Tweet of the week
 

 
The Rays’ road trips to National League parks are always interesting. Anything is possible when pitchers pick up a bat, and the prep work usually is good for a few odd sights.
 
Tampa Bay pitchers took batting practice Saturday at Tropicana Field. There were, as expected, some uncommon visuals, such as closer Fernando Rodney and reliever Kyle Farnsworth taking cuts in the cage. But right-hander Chris Archer showed power in smacking two home runs to left field. He is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, so keep a close watch for his long ball.
 
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.