The Tampa Bay Rays look to bounce back tonight after a gut wrenching, 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros on Monday.
Kevin Kiermaier, who has been out since April 15th after suffering a torn ligament in his right thumb — requiring surgery and a two-month stint on the DL — against Philadelphia, has been activated and will hit leadoff. The Rays have gone 30-27 in the time without Kiermaier, which is better than each of the previous two years when he missed significant chunks of the season.
The two-time Gold Glove winner went 7-17 over the course of his rehab stint, with a double, a triple, an RBI, two walks and a stolen base.
I squared up a lot of balls, had great at-bats, Kiermaier said. So I texted Cash, I texted (Mottola) quite a few times. And I said, ‘How many more line drives is it going to take for me to get a call to Houston?’ I guess I convinced them enough. … I’m where I need to be right now, and I’m excited to take the field tomorrow with these guys.
He is returning two games earlier than expected and will face Justin Verlander, arguably the American League’s top pitcher this season.
Hey, you face the best, and he’s having a great year, Kiermaier said. I knew what I was getting myself into, and I didn’t want to wait until Friday, to be honest. I feel like I’m fully capable right now. So I’m glad they flew me to Houston.
To make room for Kiermaier on the 25 and 40-man rosters, the Rays designated infielder/outfielder Rob Refsnyder for assignment.
While Refsnyder drew walks at an excellent 17.5% clip in 103 plate appearances for the Rays, he performed to an overall .167 BA/.314 OBP/.274 SLG/.588 OPS/74 wRC+ slash line, with two homers, 10 runs and five RBI. He’s a lifetime 68 wRC+ hitter in 423 big league plate appearances.
Refsnyder was facing diminished playing time due to Kiermaier’s return. He played primarily against lefties, and that role is now likely to be filled by Johnny Field, who will platoon left-field with Mallex Smith.
The New What Next
Blake Snell (8-4, 2.58 ERA) will get the start for the Rays, pitching opposite of Justin Verlander (9-2, 1.61 ERA).
Blake Snell allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over five innings on Thursday. He struck out eight. Snell had won his last four decisions heading in to this tough matchup against the Yankees, last taking a loss on May 13 against the Orioles. That was also the last time he allowed more than two earned runs. Even with the rough outing, the southpaw has performed to a stellar 2.58 ERA across 87-1/3 innings with a 3.34 K/BB. Snell is 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA in three career starts against Houston.
Justin Verlander allowed three runs on five hits while striking out seven across seven innings against the Athletics on Thursday. It wasn’t Verlander’s sharpest performance, as the right-hander allowed a pair of homers in the game, but it got the job done. At the end of May he owned a 1.11 ERA, although that number jumped to a still-pristine 1.61 after Thursday’s contest. This season Verlander has relied on a whiffy 95 mph four-seam fastball with good “rising” action, and an 87 mph slider. He has also mixed in an 80 mph curveball with sharp downward bite. The 35 year-old is 8-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 16 career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Rob Refsnyder (2-2, RBI), Mallex Smith (1-4, BB)
You can read about the series in our preview.
Rays 6/19/18 Starting Lineup