Royals-Rays preview

BY foxsports • August 4, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Two days after the trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays are making major changes to their lineup with an eye on 2017, and Tuesday's new wrinkle was moving centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier from the bottom of the order to the No. 2 hole, where he'll be counted on as a catalyst.

"They just said they want me to create a spark at the top of the order, to get me used to the 2-hole," Kiermaier said after getting two hits and a walk and factoring in both Rays runs in a 3-2 loss to the Royals. "Hopefully, I'll hit there next year. I owuld think that's what it means."

Kiermaier, a Platinum Glove centerfielder last season with good speed on the basepaths, had hit higher than sixth in the batting order just once before Tuesday, but the hope is that he'll energize the top of the lineup, with shortstop Brad Miller sliding from second to fourth in the order, just as he'll move to first base and outfield once newly-acquired Matt Duffy returns healthy from an Achilles tendon injury.

Kiermaier is hitting just .215 this season, not what you'd expect from a No. 2 hitter, but his on-base percentage is .317 and he leads the team with nine steals despite missing two months with a broken hand.

"I'm not a stat rat or anything. I take a lot of pride in how I handle myself. I know I'm going to have a good, productive two months from here on out. I'm glad they trust me to put me in the 2-spot."

On the other side, halfway through a four-game series, the Royals have back-to-back wins for the first time since June. Much of the excitement heading into Wednesday's game -- which pits the Royals' Edinson Volquez (8-9, 4.70 ERA) against the Rays' Jake Odorizzi (5-5, 3.88) is how well the Kansas City bullpen looked Tuesday.

That includes Kelvin Herrera, who got the save for the second straight night while closer Wade Davis is on the disabled list. Chris Young also had two strikeouts in his 1 1/3 innings as well, picking up the win in relief.

In particular, Ned Yost showed confidence in rookie Matt Strahm, who was called up from Double-A and made his debut Sunday, then was thrust into a high-leverage situation Tuesday with two runners on with one out and a one-run lead in the seventh. He struck out the Rays' Evan Longoria and Brad Miller -- who have combined for 40 home runs this season -- and impressed his manager.

"It's about opportunity, man. Take advantage of it," Yost said. "We've got confidence you can come in with your stuff and get out of it, and it's exactly what he did. With Wade being down, it's kind of audition time a little bit. It was a great outing for him. His stuff was really good."



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