When Josh Fleming pitches in Kansas City on Monday, it won’t exactly be a homecoming for the Columbia, Ill., native. But with his own fan section making the trip, it’ll feel close enough.
Fleming, who’s scheduled to pitch against the Royals, reserved about a dozen tickets for family members. He also has “at least 25” friends from high school and college coming to town.
“It’s gonna be pretty loud,” Fleming said, “and any time I hear screaming, I know it’s gonna be from them.”
Fleming lacked that sort of in-stadium energy from familiar faces when he debuted in the Majors last year. Fans weren’t permitted at regular-season games, so Fleming's parents and his wife, Katie, traveled to St. Petersburg to watch him pitch from Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill, which is located across the street from Tropicana Field. Three of Fleming’s best friends made a 16-hour car trip to do the same.
For the World Series, Fleming’s parents, grandparents and wife were in attendance at Arlington’s Globe Life Park. But for most of Fleming’s upcoming entourage, Monday marks the first time they’ll see him pitch in two or three years, back when he was still climbing the Minor League ladder.
That includes Fleming’s brother, Zach, and Zach’s wife, Megann. The couple were married last week and Fleming wasn’t able to attend, but they’ll be present at Kaufmann Stadium. Call it a belated wedding present, perhaps.
“For them to see me, in the big leagues this time, it’s gonna be pretty special,” Fleming said.
Fleming, too, has been pretty special for the Rays in the early stages of his big league career. After posting a 5-0 record and a 2.78 ERA in 32 1/3 innings last season, he worked a five-inning, one-run start on Wednesday in his first action of 2021.
He said he’s hoping to find an early groove against the Royals and “keep the same rhythm I had last game.” There will just be a few extra fans cheering him on this time.
Kiermaier eager for ‘another Opening Day’
Technically, Kevin Kiermaier has already made his return from the 10-day injured list, having entered Saturday’s game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. But on Sunday, he was in the starting lineup for the first time since April 5, and his excitement was palpable.
“Today’s a great day,” the nine-year veteran said. “It’s like another Opening Day for me.”
Kiermaier has missed most of the past two weeks with a left quad strain. For the first week, the center fielder was instructed to “do nothing” in order to let his muscle recover properly. That meant no hitting, running or throwing.
Progression was steady from there, and Kiermaier said he first felt ready on Thursday after taking pregame batting practice. Now, he feels certain the quad issue is behind him.
“I wouldn’t be playing if I wasn’t confident that if I’m asked to score from first on a double, I know I can do so,” he said. “I’m able, I’m ready to go and I want to make an impact. And that’s all I really care about, to be quite honest.”
McHugh has a 10.13 ERA and a 4.84 FIP in four relief outings this season, spanning 5 1/3 innings. He allowed one run on two hits in one-third of an inning on Saturday.
Mazza returns to the active roster one day after he was optioned to the alternate training site.