Kiermaier eyeing 'huge rebound year' in 2019

After injury-plagued '18, center fielder focused on proving himself to team, fans

February 16th, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- has always played with a chip on his shoulder, but he admits that there's some extra motivation heading into Spring Training after a frustrating 2018 season.

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"I don't think I've ever had a bigger chip on my shoulder," Kiermaier said Saturday. "I want to go out and show that I'm still a really damn good player. And I'm going to go prove that."

Rays manager Kevin Cash said the team is going to chalk up last season as a broken year for Kiermaier. Injuries limited Kiermaier to a career-low 88 games in 2018, and he was never able to get into a consistent rhythm. His .217 batting average was also the lowest of his career.

"We're a different team when KK is on the field," Cash said. "Obviously, our defense is different. And our offense, when he's going right, he has the ability to really ignite us."

Kiermaier, who reported to Rays camp on Friday, says that 2018 was a "great learning experience" and that he learned a lot about himself as he struggled. His motivation during offseason workouts was to show that he's still the same player to whom Tampa Bay gave a six-year, $53.5 million deal in '17.

"I'm going to sound like a broken record all spring, but I have a lot to prove to you guys, to my teammates, the fans, everyone," Kiermaier said. "I love where I'm at right now. I couldn't ask for anything else, and now it's just my job to go execute and maybe win some hearts back for my performance last year."

Kiermaier compared his struggles last season to the same issues he dealt with when he was a Minor Leaguer in 2011. His rough start to the season forced him to press harder, and he believes that's when he starts getting into trouble.

"When I press, I'm not good," Kiermaier said. "When I let the game come to me and don't try to do too much, I'm very effective in all facets of the game, and that's what I plan on showcasing this spring and throughout the season."

In order to prove himself, Kiermaier knows he has to stay on the field, which has been an issue for the past couple of seasons. He wanted to work even harder in the offseason, and he said he was able to cut down on his cheat meals a little more, which allowed him to come in a bit lighter this year. Kiermaier has always been known to enter camp in great shape, but he's looking to play at around 205 pounds this season, which is lighter than the 215-220-pound weight he usually carries.

Kiermaier hopes that some of the changes he made in the offseason will help him stay on the field as the Rays are looking for the 2015 American League Platinum Glove Award winner to make a big impact as the team chases its first postseason berth since '13.

"A huge rebound year for me," Kiermaier said. "I just want to help this team out. I'm so happy with what we did as a team last year, and I will make much more of a contribution this year. I promise you that."