Posted on April 16, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
Things could be about to go from bad to worse for the Tampa Bay Rays. On Monday, the Rays placed center fielder Kevin Kiermaier on the DL with a torn ligament in his right thumb. It’s an injury that will force Kiermaier to undergo surgery and keep him out for an estimated eight to 12 weeks. The loss of Kiermaier for an extended period of time is no doubt a huge blow for the Rays, who began Monday with the worst record in the American League at 3-12.
Kiermaier suffered the injury Sunday trying to stretch a single into a double after Philadelphia outfielder Rhys Hoskins bobbled the ball. He then jammed his thumb while sliding head first into second base.
“The hand just kind of got caught in the ground,” explained Kiermaier after Sunday’s game. “Thumb went in a weird angle. Just one of those things where I felt like I had the chance to over slide the bag, like I’ve done a couple of times in my career. And I was just trying to hold on.”
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This will be the third straight season that Kiermaier misses a significant chunk of the season due to injury. He missed nearly two months in 2016 with a broken hand. Last season, Kiermaier suffered a fractured hip in June that kept him out until the second half of August.
Like most of his teammates, Kiermaier has struggled offensively early in the season. He’s currently hitting just .163 with an OPS of .483. However, he’s coming off the best offensive season of his career, hitting .278 with an OPS of .788, both career-highs. More importantly, he’s one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. The Rays will undoubtedly miss his defense and the possibility that Kiermaier could have turned things around offensively.
With Kiermaier out until possibly July, the Rays will have to reshuffle their outfield. Mallex Smith, who has split time between left and right field this year, is one option in center field. He’s the fastest player on Tampa Bay’s roster and could cover the most ground in the outfield. Carlos Gomez, who has started three games in center field this season, is the other option. If Gomez becomes the primary center fielder, Smith would likely see all of his time in right field.
Regardless of how the Rays arrange things, the trio of Smith, Gomez, and Denard Span will likely become the team’s everyday outfield. Of course, Span has seen plenty of time in the DH spot, a position where the Rays have few options. Johnny Field and Rob Refsnyder will continue serving as Tampa’s reserve outfielders. If either can provide a life offensively, it could be easier for the Rays to keep Span in the DH spot most days. However, that’s not been the case thus far.
With the Rays owning the worst record in the American League, any injury is a significant loss. When healthy, Kiermaier has been one of the most important players on the team the past few years. While Tampa still has three major league caliber outfielders to help fill the void, the Rays will no doubt feel his absence over the next couple of months.