Rays still waiting to be taken to Randy Land

Arozarena's struggles continue in loss to Yankees, but club remains confident: 'It's still April'

April 21st, 2024

NEW YORK -- The fact that the Rays have played better than .500 baseball even with , the leader of their offense, mired in one of the worst slumps of his career is a testament to one of the most consistently competitive ballclubs in baseball.

But they still need to get Arozarena going. He's their most dynamic player. They can't afford to have him batting under the Mendoza Line for too much longer.

Arozarena's batting average is down to .157 after Sunday's series finale against the Yankees, a 5-4 loss in the rubber match at Yankee Stadium. He struck out three times for a second straight game.

But the Rays are confident that the 29-year-old, who was an American League All-Star last season, will be back to his usual self before long.

"It's still April," hitting coach Chad Mottola said. "All you have to do is look across the field and see Aaron Judge and listen to the boos and realize this is part of baseball."

The Yankees’ superstar was booed by his home crowd on Saturday after a Golden Sombrero at the plate -- an 0-for-4, four-strikeout game that dropped Judge's own batting average down to .179. (He’s up to .183 after going 1-for-4 Sunday.)

That puts Arozarena's struggles in some perspective. Judge is as reliable a slugger as they come -- he has hit 39, 62 and 37 home runs in the past three seasons, respectively -- and even he'll go through a stretch like this.

"There's no worry in us," Mottola said. "By the end of the year, they're going to find their numbers."

While some of the Rays' big names are off to slow starts to 2024 -- Arozarena has a .472 OPS, fellow 2023 All-Star Yandy Díaz has a .560 OPS -- teammates like Amed Rosario, who's on a career-high 13-game hitting streak during which he's batting .411, have managed to pick them up.

Rosario is eager for Arozarena to join the party.

"I have a lot of confidence in him," Rosario said through Rays interpreter Manny Navarro. "The type of thing that I tell him is: His water level's going to get up there soon. Just play your own game, just be yourself and go out there and have some fun."

Arozarena did end Sunday's game with one of his most competitive at-bats of the series, working a nine-pitch walk with two outs in the ninth inning to keep the Rays alive. Maybe he can build on that.

"I'm hoping for all these guys to pull positives," manager Kevin Cash said. "If that at-bat does it for Randy to get him going -- he's a really good player. He's too good to stay quiet much longer."

Cash and Mottola have some ideas as to the root of Arozarena's early season struggles.

Cash pointed to how Arozarena hasn't been slugging the hittable pitches he usually does.

"He's missing offspeed pitches in the zone, he's missing some fastballs in the zone," Cash said. "Just a little uncharacteristic. When he's in the zone, he's got a really good track record of doing damage with a lot of pitches, and he's just not right now."

Arozarena entered the 2024 season with a career .305 batting average and .540 slugging percentage against pitches in the strike zone. In 2024, he's batting just .169 and slugging just .277 against those in-zone pitches, both by far the lowest marks of his career.

Mottola, meanwhile, thinks Arozarena's desire to use the opposite field more entering 2024 might actually be having adverse effects on his swing.

"Part of growing and becoming a complete player is you explore things, and he wanted to use the right side of the field a little more often," the hitting coach said. "It's probably added length in his [swing] path. But you have to appreciate guys trying to get better and improve. You have to explore, and sometimes you go down the wrong road. Maybe that's possibly what happened this time."

Both of Arozarena's home runs this year have gone to right field. But Mottola said that while an approach to drive the ball the other way might benefit Arozarena over the course of his career, it also might be contributing more immediately to his slump.

"Maybe it is [good] long-term," Mottola said. "Right now, it's not. You don't want to take anything away [from him], but you have to stick to your strengths.

"Sometimes you have to go through it to find out, 'That's not the type of player I am.'"