Posted on July 21, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Tampa Bay Rays Kevin Kiermaier
Image via si.com

As they continue their second-half swoon, the Tampa Bay Rays have lost an important piece of the puzzle, at least temporarily. The club placed center fielder Kevin Kiermaier on the 10-day Injured List on Sunday because of a sprained thumb. The Rays have called up Guillermo Heredia to take his spot on the roster.

Kiermaier hurt his thumb Saturday while sliding headfirst into 1st base while trying for an infield single. He immediately had discomfort in his left thumb, which hit the bag hard, and left the game. The good news is that an MRI revealed no ligament damage, meaning Kiermaier will avoid surgery. However, this is the fourth consecutive season he has gone on the IL, including a stint last year due to a torn ligament in his right thumb.

“It’s the way he plays. You can’t take that away from the guy,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of Kiermaier’s injury-riddled past. “He plays hard. He runs like a bat out of hell when he’s in center field, diving all over, and he’s going to do that on the bases, that’s his style of play. It’s just unfortunate that it happened.”

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As the team’s primary center fielder, Kiermaier is currently hitting .248 with an OPS of .719. However, his value to the Rays is more on the defensive side of the ball. He’s won multiple Gold Glove Awards and remains one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. Along with Tommy Pham and Austin Meadows, Kiermaier helps to give the Rays one of the league’s best defensive outfields.

With Heredia, the Rays have an obvious replacement for Kiermaier. Despite being optioned to the minors twice in the last week, Heredia has spent most of the season in the majors. The Rays should feel comfortable with him stepping in as the primary center fielder, especially since they expect Kiermaier to return later in the season.

“Guillermo is a Major League player and can help us win in many ways,” Cash said last week when Heredia was briefly sent to triple-A. “The presence that he has in the clubhouse and in the dugout, even when he’s not playing, has been massive.”

Of course, Heredia is hitting just .227 this season, posting an OPS of .639 while playing in a part-time role. Also, the Rays don’t have much depth in the outfield beyond Pham, Meadows, and Avisail Garcia, who will also see time in center field while Kiermaier is out. Even though Pham and Meadows also have some experience in center field, there will be some drop-off defensively as long as Kiermaier is on the IL. Considering that the Rays are a team that often relies on strong pitching to win games, they often need their best defensive lineup on the field.

Amidst the injury to Kiermaier, the Rays enter Sunday losers of five games in a row. Tampa Bay has fallen 10 games back in the AL East and two games out of a Wild Card spot. The Rays will no doubt be relieved that Kiermaier’s injury isn’t more serious. But this is not a good time to be losing one of their everyday players.

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