Banged-up Rays lose Kiermaier, game

April 6th, 2021

With the Red Sox having been swept by the Orioles in their first series of the season, Rays manager Kevin Cash said Monday afternoon that Boston would be “pretty hungry to find a way to win.” The Red Sox lived up to Cash’s prediction, rolling over the Rays in an 11-2 victory Monday night at Fenway Park.

As rough as the outcome may have been, the Rays might have taken their biggest blows in the trainer’s room. A few hours after reliever Chaz Roe went to the injured list, center fielder exited the lopsided defeat in the third inning due to left quadriceps tightness.

While trying to beat out a double-play grounder in the second inning, Kiermaier appeared to get down the line slower than usual. Cash said he thought that was when Kiermaier felt his quad tighten up. The 30-year-old center fielder was stretching his legs in the outfield in the bottom of the second and looked uncomfortable chasing Franchy Cordero’s RBI double off the Green Monster, which is when the Rays noticed the issue.

Kiermaier has been limited by various injuries over the years, averaging 105 games per season from 2016-19. The defensive standout missed some time early in Spring Training due to tightness in both hips and, separately, a tight left quad in the middle of March.

Cash said he didn’t have much of an update immediately after the game, though he expected the Rays would have more information before Tuesday night’s game in Boston.

“Concerning,” Cash said. “Not ideal, for sure.”

In the third inning, Mike Brosseau replaced Kiermaier in the Rays’ lineup, batting sixth and playing left field. Randy Arozarena moved from left to right, where he made an early candidate for catch of the year in the fourth inning. Manuel Margot moved from right to center.

That left the Rays, already plagued by injuries four games into the season, with a three-man bench: corner infielder Yandy Díaz, who worked the second of their consecutive run-scoring walks in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter, and catchers Francisco Mejía and Joseph Odom.

The Rays began the season without first baseman Ji-Man Choi (right knee) and outfielder Brett Phillips (left hamstring), immediately testing the depth of their position player group. If Kiermaier’s injury forces them to make a roster move in the next two days, they have two position player prospects in Boston as part of their traveling taxi squad: corner infielder Kevin Padlo and shortstop Taylor Walls.

Another injury was hardly what the Rays needed to cap a second straight tough loss.

There were some encouraging signs from in his Rays debut. He pounded the zone, with 65 of his 90 pitches going for strikes. He struck out six and only walked two. He forced the Red Sox to whiff on 15 pitches and take another 12 for called strikes.

But when they did make contact, it was loud. The Red Sox racked up eight hits against Wacha, who gave up five runs (four earned) in five innings, and their average exit velocity against him was 98 mph, according to Statcast. He also ran into some bad luck on top of that: Cordero’s second-inning double would have been a flyout in any other park, with an expected batting average of .170, but instead it drove in a run.

“I was throwing strikes, but I wouldn’t necessarily say they were quality strikes,” Wacha said. “I felt like too many in the middle of the zone, pitching with a lot of traffic out there, was able to escape a couple times, but over the course of it, just too many balls over the heart of the plate there and too many hard-hit balls. I’ve got to be better than that.”

The Rays also missed opportunities at the plate, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Reliever Chris Mazza saved the bullpen but gave up six runs in 2 2/3 innings while doing so. And aside from Arozarena’s highlight-reel catch in the fourth, Tampa Bay was uncharacteristically sloppy in the field at times.

Wacha and catcher Mike Zunino got crossed up in the fourth inning, resulting in a wild pitch. With the infield in after Arozarena’s grab saved a run, Yoshi Tsutsugo couldn’t make a play at the plate and instead settled for the out at first base as another run scored. Xander Bogaerts capitalized on more mistakes with a Little League homer in the fifth.

“It's early. I'm not worried. The guys take a lot of pride in their defense, and they'll continue to work on it,” Cash said. “And we'll be playing very solid defense here, hopefully tomorrow. But yes, the last two games have not shown our best at preventing runs.”