PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Kevin Kiermaier will be the Rays' center fielder on Friday when they host the Phillies at the Charlotte Sports Park.Why is this news? After all, Kiermaier is a two-time American League Gold Glove Award winner and he's won a Platinum Glove, too. Center field is home.But
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Kevin Kiermaier will be the Rays' center fielder on Friday when they host the Phillies at the Charlotte Sports Park.
Why is this news? After all, Kiermaier is a two-time American League Gold Glove Award winner and he's won a Platinum Glove, too. Center field is home.
But given Kiermaier's hustling style of play, the Rays want to make sure they take care of him as much as possible by using the time afforded in Spring Training. So he's been used sparingly thus far, and he's even served as the designated hitter.
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"It was just to more or less keep him off his feet, keep his legs fresh," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Get his timing at the plate kind of worked out. We had a lot of outfielders we wanted to see, anyway."
Kiermaier allowed that it is nice that his employers are looking out for his well being.
"It is," Kiermaier said. "I appreciate it. When I get out there playing, I want to go. And with that being said, I don't try stealing bases the first couple of weeks. So I do tone it down. But on defense, I do want to test myself.
"I'll be back in there [Friday]. Then I'll DH [on Saturday] and play another center field [Sunday]. So I have three games in a row, giving me my first test out of the chute. It's nice that they kind of say, 'We want you to get your at-bats. We want you to get your timing down. We know what you can do in center field.' I like that."
Kiermaier said he still likes "going out there playing, too."
"But it's kind of nice still trying to save my legs a little bit," Kiermaier said. "Especially early in spring. You know, we're on our feet a lot. Since the games have started, it's a lot easier. But you can do all you want during the offseason, and you come here and you go through that first week. Stand around a lot. You can't simulate that.
"So for me, my legs feel good, so I'll start playing center field more often now. But it was nice, they just kind of told me to get my at-bats, we know you're going to play center field at a high level. And I said, 'Cool.'"
Even if he's not playing in a game or he's the DH, Kiermaier still does his work on the back fields. A big part of why the Rays signed him to a six-year, $53.5 million contract last spring is the fact that he has an extra gear.
"I'm a key piece to this team," Kiermaier said. "I know I'm talking about myself, but it's true. If I didn't play the way I did out there, it wouldn't give our team a better chance of winning. And that's why I do it.
"I can sit here and explain how that got me to the big leagues and why it got me my contract. I know one speed, and I'm going to go out there and do everything for a purpose. I'm not afraid to put my body on the line. I want to stay healthy. I've had a couple of freak accidents where it didn't work in my favor, but at the same time, if I went out there and played center field or ran the bases passively, that's when I think my overall game would digress."
While he's taking a little time to get fully immersed in game action every day, Kiermaier understands that he can't just flip a switch after the final Grapefruit League game and be ready for the season.
"I want to get my body as game ready as possible here in Spring Training," Kiermaier said. "Get a feel for it as time goes on. We've got four weeks left down here. I want to sit here and prepare myself for game situations for the regular season. But once Opening Day comes, I'm not making any transition to how I'm playing compared to the last couple of weeks of Spring Training. Because that's go time.
"[I'm] preparing my body with game situations, how I want to perform out there with my speed and quickness and instincts. All that. I want that to click sooner than later."
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.