HOUSTON – Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier made his impact felt defensively in his return from the disabled list on Tuesday. There will be changes in playing time moving forward as well.
With Kiermaier, who missed 57 games with a torn ligament in his right thumb, back in the fold, Mallex Smith shifted to left field while Johnny Field claimed a reserve role. While Smith appears a likely bet to maintain regular at-bats, Field could see a decline in his. Field could potentially share time in right field with veteran Carlos Gomez, whose defense played a part in the Rays’ 2-1 victory Tuesday that ended Houston’s 12-game winning streak and set the stage for the rubber match of this three-game series on Wednesday night.
“Mallex is going to play a lot,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s done a good job; I think he’s deserving to play. He’s probably back in the spot that benefits us the most in left or right when he goes over there at certain times. I like that he can rove to all three of (the outfield slots) and back up K.K. in center. But now it’s like the infield thing: I’m just going to have to do a good job of making sure that everybody gets some consistency and also rest at the same time.
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt Carlos Gomez to get an extra day here and there. Same with Johnny. You see with really good teams that have a full roster the ability to rest their so-called regulars. So, we’ll take that approach.”
The Rays designated outfielder Rob Refsnyder for assignment to make room for Kiermaier.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-2, 4.63 ERA) will start the series finale for the Rays (34-39). He is 1-0 with a 2.52 ERA over four career starts against Houston but hasn’t faced them since April 7, 2016, while pitching for the Yankees.
Eovaldi has faced the Astros once in Houston, earning a 3-2 win on June 26, 2015, after allowing two runs on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts over six innings.
Wednesday will mark his fifth start since returning from a second Tommy John surgery.
The Astros (49-26) will counter with right-hander Charlie Morton (8-1, 2.94 ERA), who is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA over three career starts against the Rays. Morton went 1-1 with a 5.73 ERA in two starts against the Rays last season, allowing seven runs on 10 hits and five walks over 11 innings.
He picked up the win in his last start, the 200th of his career, limiting the Royals to three runs on four hits and four walks with nine strikeouts over six innings in a 7-3 victory on June 15.
Major League Baseball released the second update of the American League All-Star voting results on Tuesday, and Astros second baseman Jose Altuve leads all players in fan balloting with 1,572,101 votes. Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts is just behind Altuve at 1,568,417.
“I think it’s remarkable, and I think it’s well deserved for someone who represents our game in exceptional fashion,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who will manage the AL All-Stars in Washington, D.C., next month. “I think the voters are getting it right. He’s every bit what’s right about baseball. I love the guy and I’m happy that he’s getting the recognition that he should.”