ST. PETERSBURG -- The Kevin Kiermaier Show might have had its finest hour on Sept. 15 at Tropicana Field.By the time the 6-hour, 5-minute game against the Red Sox had finished in 15 innings, the Rays' center fielder had put forth a complete performance, throwing out runners, making circus catches,
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Kevin Kiermaier Show might have had its finest hour on Sept. 15 at Tropicana Field.
By the time the 6-hour, 5-minute game against the Red Sox had finished in 15 innings, the Rays' center fielder had put forth a complete performance, throwing out runners, making circus catches, and getting clutch hits in what ended up being a loss for Tampa Bay.
Kiermaier has always spoiled Rays fans with his defense. If you go to a game, you expect to see a catch or a throw that defies logic. But in 2017, Kiermaier began to fuel expectations on offense as well, prompting the question: How good can Kevin Kiermaier be? Prior to the end of the season, reporters posed that question to Kiermaier.
"I control my confidence, and my thoughts and actions every day," Kiermaier said. "I think the main word that I always say is if I stay consistent with everything, then that's when I can be really dangerous. And I think this whole time from my coming back from off the DL, I've been very consistent. Shows you the type of player I can be. From my experience the past couple of years, I can put together some really good moments, but then I've had some really bad ones, too. That's every baseball player.
"The best ones in the game learn to eliminate those funks you get in rather than nine or 10 games, it's two or three, then you get back in the swing of things. For me, consistency is the key, but when I step into the batter's box, I don't care who is on the mound. That's when I know I can do some damage."
Rays manager Kevin Cash said Kiermaier was a "special player before 2017," and he added "he's grown more comfortable at the plate. He's definitely more confident."
Kiermaier belted a career-high 15 home runs in 2017, even though he only played in 98 games due to a stint on the disabled list with a right-hip fracture that caused him to miss 61 games. In addition, his batting average jumped by 30 points. Much of that offensive improvement came after he returned from the DL, when he hit .306/.352/.517.
"All credit to him the way he's gone about his business," Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola said.
Mottola noted that once Kiermaier began to find more consistency in his results, it became easier for him to be consistent with his work. Mottola said Kiermaier adopted a philosophy to simplify things.
"He doesn't like to think too much at the plate and he's kind of found a routine that slides in for him," Mottola said. "That's what happens in this game. You go through things in life that people tell you what to do, and then you finally go out on your own and discover the things you like to do and blend them together, and that's what he's starting to do. ... The aggressiveness comes with confidence."
Kiermaier has always carried an over-the-top level of confidence about his defense. Now that confidence seems to have spilled over into his offense.
"What I tell people is that I've gotten better every year of my career, and sometimes my numbers aren't going to show that," Kiermaier said. "... I know there's still a lot more out there. I want to prove to my teammates, my coaches, people who are out there in the league that I'm no walk in the park when I step in the batter's box. I feel like I'm a tough out and you better not leave a pitch out over the plate. I plan on doing some damage."
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.