Desmond Jennings’ Injury Haunts Rays As Tiebreaker Looms

By Robbie Knopf

After Desmond Jennings exited with a tight hamstring, in the Rays’ 3-1 win over the Orioles on September 22nd, the Rays proceeded to win their next four games and his injury flew under the radar. He could not have picked a worse time to go down, but the Rays were doing fine and he would likely be back for the postseason anyway. However, as the Rays lost their first two games in Toronto and held onto to their playoff hopes by the slimmest of margins as they edged the Blue Jays 7-6 to end the season, the question had to start creeping into everyone’s minds: where was Desmond Jennings? The question will be even more pertinent as the Rays face Rangers lfty Martin Perez on Monday night.

On September 23rd, the Rays’ lineup was not quite at its best even as they beat the Orioles 5-4. Facing Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen, the Rays put Sean Rodriguez at first base, Tim Beckham at second base, and Sam Fuld in centerfield. Beckham had a great game, but was such a critical contest really the right time for him to make his first and only start of the season? In the postseason, the Rays would likely play James Loney even against the lefty (as they did on September 28th against the Blue Jays), putting Rodriguez in left field. But even then, who would the Rays’ centerfielder be without Jennings? Wil Myers and David DeJesus can both play there, but Myers moving creates a vacancy in right field and DeJesus doesn’t hit lefties. Essentially, no matter what they do, the Rays will be forced to play Beckham or have a left-hand hitting outfielder like Fuld, DeJesus, Kelly Johnson, or Matt Joyce seeing time. That is not a situation the Rays want to be dealing with as their season hangs in the balance.

Jennings is not severely injured. He has pinch-hit twice since the injury, going 1 for 2, and Joe Maddon said that he is available to DH. But are the Rays really going to DH Jennings when the core of his game, speed, is a question mark and his replacement in the outfield, designated hitter Delmon Young, is defensively deficient? Jennings willl make the postseason roster as a right-handed bat off the bench even if he can’t play the outfield, but his injury severely limits what the Rays can do. As the Rays play a win-or-go-home game against the Rangers on Monday night, Jennings’ absence will force them to play a less than ideal lineup and overcome another obstacle in addition to a tough Rangers team if they home to keep their season alive. Jennings may only be a few days away from returning to the field, but the Rays are going to have to go above and beyond for his return to mean anything.