When Ben Zobrist went on the disabled list with a dislocated thumb, it was a big loss, but the Rays did have options to replace him. Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe were already on the roster, and Cole Figueroa was called up from Triple-A. That move was simple enough. The latest two issues, however, have left the Rays quite short-handed. A death in the family has sent Desmond Jennings away from the team, and the Rays placed him on the bereavement list. Replacing him on the roster until Tuesday will be Kevin Kiermaier. Ryan Hanigan, meanwhile, left last night’s game with hamstring soreness and will be unavailable for an indeterminate amount of time. How are the Rays going to get through these three absences?
For Kevin Kiermaier, he could find himself starting at least two of the next three games in centerfield for the Rays and quite possibly all three. The 24 year old outfielder has gotten off to an incredible start at Triple-A, hitting to a .322/.382/.483 line with 6 doubles, 3 homers, and 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts in 131 plate appearances. He has always been a tremendous defensive centerfielder, and now he has his hitting and baserunning up to par as well. With that in mind, Kiermaier could be the Rays’ best option to start in centerfield with Jennings unavailable.
For tonight’s game the Rays will face a left-handed pitcher and will need to have all three of Brandon Guyer, Sean Rodriguez, and Logan Forsythe in the lineup thanks to Zobrist’s injury. Guyer could play center with Rodriguez in left and Forsythe at second base, but the Rays have no one to play designated hitter in that case. With that in mind, Forsythe will likely be at DH with either Cole Figueroa or Kiermaier in the lineup. With Kiermaier a much better defender, it would appear that he would get the nod. Then, against right-handed pitching, the Rays could have an outfield of Matt Joyce, David DeJesus, and Wil Myers from left to right, but they would need someone to play DH once again. With Kiermaier a lefty hitter, we should instead see him in center with DeJesus or Joyce at DH. Kiermaier may or may not start tonight against lefty C.J. Wilson, but it is clear that we will see a lot of him for the Rays in the next three days.
With Jennings’ injury creating an opening, this is a major opportunity for Kevin Kiermaier to establish himself in the major leagues. The Rays already have four quality outfielders on their roster, but if Kiermaier can continue to prove that he has broken through at the plate to go along with his great defense, the Rays may have to make room. Kiermaier will be back at Triple-A when Jennings returns, but if he does keep impressing, the Rays may have to contemplate trading Joyce to clear a spot for him on the roster.
In regards to Hanigan’s injury, meanwhile, Jose Molina will once again be the Rays’ primary catcher. The issue, as Rays fans know quite well, is that he can’t really hit. Molina continues to pitch-frame with the best of them, but his .128/.163/.128 line to begin 2014 is horrific even by his standards. Molina will certainly be starting games for the Rays, but can the Rays really justify letting him bat in a close game in the seventh or eighth inning? They have Sean Rodriguez and Wil Myers behind him as emergency catchers, and it will be interesting to see whether the Rays will be willing to pinch-hit for Molina and put one of them in. The situation will almost certainly arise, and we have to think that we will see Rodriguez’s major league catching debut in the next couple of days unless Hanigan quickly proves himself ready to return.
Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays are the best in baseball at managing time for their players using a variety of positions. The next few days will be as trying as ever. Will Kevin Kiermaier play regularly? Will Sean Rodriguez catch in a game? Those are among the questions the Rays will have to deal with as they hope to keep winning games with three key players gone.