Can Kiermaier finally stay healthy enough for Rays?

by Gary Shelton on March 28, 2019 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Kiermaier has missed 166 games to injuries./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

There are black cats in the outfield. There are ladders above the dugout. In the clubhouse, there are broken mirrors.

Once again, Keven Kiermaier will take on them all.

He keeps breaking. The Rays' centerfielder keeps turning aggressive plays into odd injuries, and in turn they keep removing him from the lineup. Kiermaier has become a part-time player for the Rays in recent seasons, and the temptation is to look at him as if he were brittle, fragile.

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Kiermaier says he's ready for the 2019 season./JEFFREY S. KING

"I need to stay on the field," Kiermaier said Thursday morning. "I know that. I haven’t done that the last three years, and it's something I’ll live with the rest of my life. They were  all freak accidents that could have easily been avoided. It is what it is.

"I take a lot of pride in the way I play this game. I’m trying to make something happen. They’re all things I’ve done thousands and thousands of times in my life."

It keeps happening. None of them are routine injuries, like a chronically bad shoulder or an aching knee.

In 2016, he missed 48 games when he fractured his left hand.

In 2017, he missed 61 games when he fractured his right hip sliding into first base.

In 2018, he missed 57 games when he tore a ligament in his right thumb while trying to make a diving catch.

You get the picture. Kiermaier plays baseball as if it were demolition derby and, at times, he out-hustles the limits of his body. He's Mr. Body from the kid's game Operation.

It isn't good for the Rays, of course. Over the last three years, Kiermaier has missed more than a seasons of games.

“Three freak injuries," Rays' manager Kevin Cash said. "I really believe that. When you  take guys who play at his  level, with his speed, with his recklessness to help us win, to me we're talking about three freak injuries. We're going to do everything we can to keep him rested and keep him healthy, because we're a different team with him in the lineup. But the last thing we'd ever is ask him to change is his style of play.

"We want him to dive, but dive and don't hit the body so hard."

"I can’t play not to get hurt," Kiermaier said. "I care about winning. I’m not afraid to get my elbows or knees bloody. That’s part of the game. I made it to the big leagues because of my aggressiveness. I just know one speed."

Kiermaier bristles at the suggestion that he is reckless, however.

"I gracefully hit walls," Kiermaier said. "When people say I Iplay reckless, I highly disagree. I  play hard. People throw around the term “my hair is on fire”   and all that stuff. 

"I play the way I do for a purpose. I know which walls I can go into and which walls I can’t.  I  know what I can and what I can’t do.  I’m not going into the green monster in Fenway. That thing is as hard as a rock. If I do, i’m jumping up. I’m never jumping directly into the wall."

There is little doubt that Rays like having Kiermaier in center field. He's been voted the best defensive outfielder in the game twice.  Since 2015, he's saved 103 runs, most in the majors. That's despite the missing time. It had an affect on his offense; he hit just .217 last season. But his glove is where fly balls go to die.

This year, Kiermaier swears he couldn't care less what he hits.

"I’m in a great place right now," Kiermaier said "I  feel great, physically and mentally. I'm ready to rock and roll.

I don’t need to prove myself. I know what I’m capable of. I need to prove to my teammates and everyone else that I can easily sustain that."

Could he get hurt again? Sure he can. He plays like a runaway train, and from time to time, he is prone leave the tracks. But think of it like this? Do you want a conservative Kiermaier? Do you him to play it safe?

Of course not. You can't wrap an outfielder in bubble-wrap.

Can you?





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