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Healthy and focused, Garcia eager for at-bats

March 12, 2019

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- After hitting home runs in consecutive outings, it’s no surprise that Avisail Garcia told manager Kevin Cash he wanted to get another at bat against the Phillies in Clearwater on Monday before his scheduled day off Tuesday. “He wanted a fourth at-bat because he was feeling so

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- After hitting home runs in consecutive outings, it’s no surprise that Avisail Garcia told manager Kevin Cash he wanted to get another at bat against the Phillies in Clearwater on Monday before his scheduled day off Tuesday.

“He wanted a fourth at-bat because he was feeling so good and we had to talk him out of it and say, ‘That’s enough,’” Cash said.

But it’s a good sign for the Rays that the right knee injuries that hampered Garcia in 2018 and forced him to get offseason arthroscopic surgery seem to be far behind him now.

Garcia is hitting .350 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 20 at-bats this spring and says that good health and focus are playing a big part in his successful Grapefruit League stint.

“I think of [spring] games like the regular season,” Garcia said. “You’ve got to do that. That’s the way you’re going to be focused and try to do your best. I take these games seriously and try to do my best and be focused.”

When Garcia was healthy in 2018, he showed potential for good power numbers with 19 home runs, but his .281 on-base percentage was a career low and he struck out more than 100 times for the fourth straight season despite playing just 93 games for the Chicago White Sox.

Garcia says his struggles at the plate were directly related to his struggle to get healthy.

“In 2018 I was fighting with my knee,” Garcia said. “I was jumping at the ball. Now I’m staying back because my knee is strong, it’s feeling great and I think the trainer is doing a very good job.”

But at full health Garcia stands to be a nice surprise for the Rays, who are hopeful he can return to his 2017 form when he was the White Sox representative in the All-Star Game.

“I think we were hoping that [when we signed him],” Cash said. “But that’s a year banged up, you never know.”

Kiermaier understands four-man strategy

The Rays implemented a four-man outfield again Tuesday in their 2-1 win against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

They used the shift against Blue Jays first baseman Billy McKinney with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning. McKinney hit a ball in left-center field that Kevin Kiermaier was easily able to track down.

Tampa Bay did the shift on Monday against Bryce Harper and after that game, Kiermaier said he is in full support of the move.

“I understand where they’re coming from,” Kiermaier said. “It’s one of those things where we know we’re taking a risk. If we make a play that we wouldn’t have with three outfielders, we’re going to look like geniuses. And other times where guys hit ground balls to a certain spot if we had the regular alignment it’s not gonna look so great.

“But everything we do out there is all for a purpose and you hope that those guys that we do play the four-man outfield against, they hit it where we think it’s going to go more times than not.”

Ryne Stanek, who was on the mound for the shift today, said he didn’t even notice the shift happening.

“I saw [Kiermaier] catch it,” Stanek said. “I just kind of expected … that’s just a ball you look up and Kiermaier catches it regardless.”