Arozarena showing signs of catching fire

Postseason hero homers and doubles for Rays, who also get 5 RBIs from Mejía

July 21st, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- may have set an unrealistically high standard for himself during his record-breaking tear through the postseason last October. Expecting him to sustain that level of performance throughout a full season is simply not fair. As manager Kevin Cash said Tuesday, “I don't know of any player that looked that way.”

There is no denying how important Arozarena is to the Rays’ lineup, however. Hitting coach Chad Mottola is hesitant to place too much pressure on any one of Tampa Bay’s players, but he has consistently shared one message with Arozarena throughout his ups and downs at the plate this season: “We know we’re better with you in the lineup, so we need you to get going.”

The Rays saw Arozarena start to get going when he recorded two hits Monday night, the only highlight of a disappointing loss. And they got more of what they need from Arozarena on Tuesday, when he doubled and homered off left-hander John Means within the first three innings of a 9-3 win over the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

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The Rays got what they needed from left-hander and catcher on Tuesday night, too, helping them overcome their first four-error game since May 19, 2019. McClanahan pitched five strong innings in the Rays’ best start since the All-Star break, and Mejía homered and tripled to record a career-high five RBIs.

But what Arozarena has shown over the past few days could be of greater significance for the Rays in the long run. His defense in left field has quietly been quite valuable, and he has still been better than league average at the plate overall this season. But as he proved in the postseason, the 26-year-old outfielder can carry the entire lineup when he’s on his game.

And Tuesday, he was on his game.

“I feel good. And I'm very thankful that I'm able to have the results that I have in the last couple of days,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “But what I'm mostly happy about is that we got the win and we got the victory. … And whatever I've got to do to help the team win, I'm going to try and do it.”

Since returning from the All-Star break, the Rays have seen Arozarena’s bat speed improve. He has worked with Mottola to narrow his stance, freeing him up to use his athleticism in the batter’s box. And watching him hammer a couple of pitches up the middle on Monday showed Cash that Arozarena was moving in the right direction.

“I mean, we need Randy. We tell him that all the time,” Mottola said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re a better team when he’s going good.”

Arozarena has been striving all season to match his historic performance last October, and he said hearing that from Mottola gives him confidence. He wants to play every day, and he appreciates hearing that the Rays want the same thing.

Bumped up to the leadoff spot Tuesday night when Yandy Díaz was scratched due to recurring neck spasms, Arozarena lashed a 110.5-mph double to left field and quickly came around to score on Vidal Bruján’s bloop single to left. Bruján eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Wander Franco, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead.

Arozarena got another one in the third, hammering a 2-1 fastball from Means out to center field. The 104.3-mph, 418-foot solo shot was Arozarena’s 11th homer of the season and his first since June 17. In 21 games and 75 at-bats between home runs, Arozarena hit just .167/.274/.222, leaving a hole in Tampa Bay’s lineup -- especially against left-handed pitchers.

“He's such a big part of our offense, our team,” Cash said. “Glad to see Randy's kind of coming out of it. Look, there's going to be times throughout the season where you go quiet, and maybe his was this last three weeks, month, whatever it is. But he certainly looks like he's coming out of it and helping us in a big way.”

Maybe it’s just a product of facing the Orioles, because he’s now 14-for-32 with five homers, three doubles and 14 RBIs in seven games against them this season. But he has now recorded an extra-base hit in consecutive games for the first time since June 16-17, and Tuesday was his first game with multiple extra-base hits since June 14. He has ended an 0-for-12 skid by going 4-for-8 with a homer and two doubles the last two nights.

“I've been trying to do the same work I've been doing [since] the beginning of the year,” Arozarena said. “I actually talked to my wife and I said, 'Hey, can God please give me some more hits? Please, that's all I need.'”

Mejía, starting while Mike Zunino (left hip flexor tightness) rested, came through with two big hits of his own Tuesday night. In the fourth, the switch-hitting catcher crushed a 1-0 pitch from Means deep to left field for his first home run since May 23.

Baltimore rallied to make it a two-run game in the eighth, an uprising Pete Fairbanks shut down with two key strikeouts, but Mejía struck again to give the Rays plenty of breathing room. With the bases loaded and one out, Mejía ripped a line drive to right field for his first triple since 2019.

“I think this is the best game I've ever had in the big leagues,” Mejía said through Navarro, “and it feels really good.”