Wil Myers should use time back as a springboard for next season

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Wil Myers returned against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night after a 70-game absence, a reintroduction to normalcy that can serve as a springboard for next year.

This has been a strange season for the returning American League Rookie of the Year, a campaign that began with high hopes for him but one that has fallen short of expectations. It’s hard to fault Myers for any of this, because it’s difficult to account for physical issues when envisioning what players should be when predictions are made in spring training.

Still, the popular Myers narrative went something like this when players reported to Charlotte Sports Park last February: There’s little reason to think he won’t build off his impressive rookie season when he mostly lived up to the hype that came with his arrival after a seven-player deal with the Kansas City Royals in December 2012. He was thought to provide firepower, along with third baseman Evan Longoria, in the Rays’ attempt to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons.

Most of the past three months have become a lesson in patience for him as he recovered from a fractured right wrist sustained May 30 at Fenway Park, and it remains to be seen if production will follow in the regular season’s remaining weeks.

"It was good. I was excited to get back," said Myers, who went 0 for 3 with one strikeout against right-hander Rick Porcello in the Rays’ 6-0 loss to the Tigers at Tropicana Field. "I felt very comfortable in the box. I took some very good swings. The only problem I had was just that last at-bat — just kind of got off the fastball. But other than that, I felt really good."

Manager Joe Maddon hopes that Myers can help spark a late season-saving rally. But beyond possible short-term gain, momentum established in these upcoming weeks will be crucial for Myers as he continues to learn who he can become at this level.

Rays vs. Tigers

The move to place Myers at designated hitter to begin is smart. It gives Myers and Maddon time to learn where the young player’s body stands as he becomes acclimated back in the majors, no small assignment.

Wednesday afternoon, Myers insisted that he had found himself again at the plate during his seven-game rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham. The time away from the major-league grind since late May and the trip back to North Carolina should be good for him in the long term. It was a reprieve from all the attention that comes with him being in a Rays uniform and what the sight represents.

The future. The jewel of the trade that sent right-hander James Shields to the Royals. The hope for power within a lineup that sorely lacks pop.

"We need his bat," Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said, "and he can make a lot of things happen in the batter’s box."

The Rays need Myers at the top of his game as well.

His career arc always will be interesting to follow because of the package that came with his arrival. He was the hotshot prospect who was supposed to enjoy an ascent similar to Longoria’s rise, perhaps replacing No. 3 one day as the Rays’ most-recognizable position player.

Hype, once free to run wild, is rarely caged.

Myers still has incredible potential, but his prolonged absence this season can serve as a demarcation for him. Consider it a rest stop from all the chatter that came before and after his Rays debut on June 18, 2013, at Fenway Park.

Myers, since late May, has had time to distance himself from the noise. Now with his return to the majors, he has an opportunity to evolve at his own pace and build for a time when his expectations can be reset next spring.

"I thought he looked really comfortable at the plate, actually," Maddon said. "I liked the stance a lot. Just talking to him, I think he felt pretty good. No hits — I’m not worried about that. I liked how he looked. I liked the stance. When he’s talking good like that, normally good things follow. So I thought in spite of not getting any hits, I thought he looked pretty good."

Myers’ goal should be to become better than "pretty good," of course, and he was just so-so this season before the injury. He’s hitting .224 with five home runs and 25 RBI after Wednesday. The upcoming weeks should be about building constructive habits for the future, not becoming too concerned with consequences of the present.

"I think it’s more so just me going out and proving to myself what I can do and proving everybody that kind of doubted what I can do — just showing them that the first two months were a fluke," he said.

He has the power to do so, now and far into the future.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.