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Tampa Bay Rays: Lineup Changes Paying Dividends

By Althea Pashman
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One can only wonder what would have been if the second half adjustments that have been made to the Tampa Bay Rays lineup would have been made sooner than later.

As we all know, there will be no Tampa Bay Rays champagne pouring on players or on-field festivities with fans, no spotlights shining on players, coaches or even loud music in the locker-room.

There is no post-season for the Tampa Bay Rays for the third consecutive year.

However, that is all water under the bridge, the results of the season are what they are and now it’s time to look ahead.

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On September 1, the rosters expand for all of Major League Baseball and for the Tampa Bay Rays roster expansion means opportunity.

It’ll give Cash and Tampa Bay Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman the chance to get a fairly good look and possible indication of what player or players can help the team in 2017.

However, right now it’s important to take a look at the adjustments that manager Kevin Cash has made since the All-Star break which has clearly improved their offensive production.

Prior to the All-Star break the Tampa Bay Rays were dead last in batting in the American League in just about every category.

However, post All-Star break through 31 games played, the Rays are batting .245, have scored 154 runs, their OBP is .319, slugging is up to .439 and their OPS is now .758.

The stats are all above the AL average with the exception of their batting average (.251/.314/.415/.729) and clearly that improvement is related to the changes in the lineup.

The biggest two biggest and most significant adjustments to the lineup came on August 2 when Cash moved Kevin Kiermaier and Brad Miller.

In his previous lineups, Kiermaier hit anywhere from the sixth to the eighth spot while Miller had been hitting either second or sixth.

Now, Kiermaier is hitting in the second hole and Miller was moved into the cleanup role where he has excelled.

Since the new lineup changes, Kiermaier may not be setting the world on fire with his hitting, but he’s getting on base and more importantly doing lots of things to help the team win games.

“I just want to try to take offensive steps forward from here through the end of the season. I know I’ve been a little inconsistent thus far throughout the season. This is a never-ending process of working,” said Kiermaier.

I’m just trying to have as many quality at-bats as possible and get on for our big guys to drive me in.

If it’s a single here or there, steal a couple bases and get in scoring position for Longo [Longoria], Logan Morrison and Brad [Miller], that’s my game, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Over his last 14 games he’s batting .268/.369/.429 (15-for-56) with 3-2B, 2-HR and 7-RBI, and 3-SB.

"“Since KK’s moved up in the lineup, I think he’s done a really nice job,” said Cash.He gets on base and does exactly what we need, and that’s steal bases, create some havoc, put pressure on the pitcher and on the defense.”"

Miller voiced his displeasure of being removed as the everyday shortstop to accommodate their new shortstop Matt Duffy who was acquired from the San Francisco Giants.

He figured he’d be playing less and at the same time felt he had improved at the shortstop position, but that wasn’t the case.

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Instead, the Tampa Bay Rays told him he would be their new first baseman.

Between making the adjustment to a new position and batting cleanup, Miller wasted no time proving that his bat needs to stay in the lineup whether playing first, short or as the DH.

While the jury is still out on whether or not he succeeds at first, what are certain are Miller’s abilities at the plate.

Since making the move into the cleanup spot in the lineup Miller has been el fuego at the plate batting .368/.455/.842 (21-for-57) with 3-2B, 8-HR and 18-RBIs.

With his home run on Wednesday, the 25th of the season Miller has hit five since Saturday and three in his last seven at-bats.

Prior to this season had never hit more than 11. Overall on the season, he’s batting .265 with a .850 OPS, a .530 slugging percentage to go along with 57 RBI, 58 Runs scored and 6 SB in 400 at-bats.

“I think I am picking the right pitches to swing at,” Miller said, “and when you do, you can’t miss them because you might only get one per at-bat. That’s what I try to do, is hit the one pitch I get each at-bat and move it.”

Has combined with Evan Longoria for 52 HR, the most by a pair of AL infield teammate and is on pace for 34 HR, which would be 5 more than his career total prior to this season (29 HR in 343 games and 1,111 at-bats).

He and Longoria could become the third set of Ray’s teammates to each hit 30 HR in a season, following Longoria and Carlos Peña in 2009 and Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff in 1999.

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Now, if only Cash can make some adjustments from the fifth through the ninth spots in the lineup, things could become very interesting.

Rays Stingers

Chase Whitley (Tommy John surgery) completed a 30-day rehab assignment and was optioned to Double-A Montgomery.

He is expected to be a September call-up; Whitley allowed two runs over 21 innings in six minor league starts.

Evan Longoria played in his 1,236th game on Wednesday to pass Carl Crawford for the most in team history.

Longoria is the Rays’ career leader in a number of categories including homers (232), RBIs (780), doubles (292) and extra-base hits (540).

Alex Cobb made his sixth rehab start on Tuesday with Triple-A Durham pitching to so-so reviews.

Cobb gave up three runs of which one was earned on two hits and three walks. He did strike out five but also walked a batter.

The start was much better than his previous one last Wednesday when he gave up four earned runs on eight hits over three innings.

However, because of his inability to consistently find the strike zone, he threw 76 pitches in four innings and was removed.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Miller Upset, Out as Shortstop

Thus far, this was his longest outing and is likely to remain with Durham until September call ups.

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