Jun 7, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings (8) catches a fly ball during the fourth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Desmond Jennings has, over his time in Tampa, been one of the more consistent defensive players on the team. He had gone the entire 2012 season without an error, and had only made one miscue since he became a permanent member of the Rays, on his first game in 2011. With the Rays focus on great defense and run prevention, Jennings may be even more valuable in the field than with his bat.
This defensive ability makes his recent stretch all the more perplexing. After not making an error in over two years, Jennings has made two in the month of September. The occasional error can be explained – a throw that just sails or losing a ball in the lights, but this streak has been more than a bad throw. His routes to the ball have been lackadaisical, and he appears to be getting a bad read on the ball off the bat.
Those struggles was evident in the second inning of last night’s game. With two outs and two runners on, Chris Archer got a line drive to center that had the potential to end the inning. However, Jennings took two steps in on the ball, before realizing that it was going to go over his head. He sprinted back, but his leaping attempt at the ball came up short, leading to what was scored a two run triple.
With the Rays struggling as they have as of late, their ability to play defense is even more important than it may be otherwise. Errors and misplays that lead directly to runs could come back to haunt the Rays, especially as they are fighting for their playoff lives. Having someone as typically reliable as Jennings in center should be a major help for the Rays.
However, Desmond Jennings has not been the same defensive player that he normally is over the past month. For the Rays to make the postseason, they may need him to get back to that level.