Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier Impresses on Opening Day

The Tampa Bay Rays started the season off the right way Sunday afternoon, topping division rival New York 7-3. Star center fielder Kevin Kiermaier‘s contributions propelled his team to victory.

Kevin Kiermaier has come into his own with the Tampa Bay Rays over the past two seasons, earning a reputation as one of the best defenders in the game. The reputation is well earned. In 2015 and 2016, he accumulated 67 Defensive Runs Saved, 24 more than second-place Andrelton Simmons.

Kiermaier’s glove work has been well documented, and he was rewarded handsomely for it with a 6 year, $53.5 million extension with Tampa (per Spotrac). However, his contributions with the bat have been underwhelming thus far. He posted 97 wRC+ in 2015 and 104 wRC+ last season, putting him right around league average at the plate. Kiermaier’s defense already makes him a premier player in the game. An offensive breakout would make him a superstar.

Performance

In Sunday’s opener against the Yankees, Kiermaier showed some of his offensive potential. He went 2-for-3 with a double, a single, two walks, and a stolen base. His plate discipline was impressive as well. In his first at bat versus Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka, Kiermaier took a 2-1 pitch to the left center gap.

New York left fielder Brett Gardner stopped the ball on the ground and fired to second, but Kiermaier used his speed to leg out a double. In his second at bat, also against Tanaka, he showed impressive plate discipline, drawing a two out walk on a full count. Kiermaier’s walk allowed Evan Longoria to come to the plate, and he hit a home run over the left field fence.

In his third at-bat against lefty Tommy Layne, Kiermaier hit a 1-0 pitch up the middle past the glove of Starlin Castro for a single. He earned his first stolen base of the year on an 0-2 pitch to Brad Miller, beating Gary Sanchez‘s throw by a good amount. His lone empty at bat of the game was a weakly hit ball to Yankees shortstop Ronald Torreyes.

To finish his stellar Opening Day performace, Kiermaier battled back from a 1-2 count with an eight-pitch at bat to draw a walk against lefty Chasen Shreve.

Outlook

Rays fans and baseball fans alike hope today’s performance will become the new normal from star Kevin Kiermaier. He was patient at the plate, seeing a lot of pitches and driving the ones he liked. After drawing only 40 walks in 414 plate appearances a year ago, he drew 2 today in only 5 at bats. Obviously, his 40% BB rate will drop quickly. However, it bodes well for his plate discipline going forward. Kiermaier’s contributions on the basepaths will also help his team greatly. His double in the first inning would have been a single for most hitters. He will also steal a lot of bases this season, after stealing 21 last year.

While it was only one game, Kevin Kiermaier showed fans a glimpse of what he’s capable of at the plate. If he can continue to be patient at the plate and keep hitting line drives, this could be the season he breaks out offensively.

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