Following Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over the Marlins in which he hit a leadoff inside-the-park home run, Kevin Kiermaier said that he jokes with the coaching staff over his approach as a leadoff batter.

Rays Notebook: Kiermaier Hot Atop The Order; Sizzling Shane

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Following Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over the Marlins in which he hit a leadoff inside-the-park home run, Kevin Kiermaier said that he jokes with the coaching staff over his approach as a leadoff batter.

“I tell them, ‘Hey, if you guys put me leadoff, I am swinging,’” he said. “I am not taking 3-0 or 3-1 like a lot of guys.”

It is likely manager Kevin Cash, hitting coach Chad Mottola and everybody else in the coach’s room could care less what Kiermaier does as a leadoff hitter as long as he is producing. In three games at the top of the Rays’ lineup, the center fielder is hitting .500 (7-for-14) with two homers. It is part of a hot streak he is enjoying of late.

Following Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over the Marlins in which he hit a leadoff inside-the-park home run, Kevin Kiermaier said that he jokes with the coaching staff over his approach as a leadoff batter.
Kevin Kiermaier, Credit: Tyler Schank/Tampa Bay Rays

Kiermaier, who has nearly 600 career plate appearances as a leadoff batter, but had not been in that spot this season until last Saturday at Baltimore, started to get on a roll last Wednesday against visiting Detroit when he roped three hits for the first of five straight multi-hit games. It is the longest such streak of his career, one in which he is hitting .541 (13-for-23) with three home runs, six RBI and seven runs scored.

“KK has proven that he can do special things with a bat in his hand, and right now we are really appreciating him sitting at the top (of the order) and getting things going for us,” said Cash, prior to Tuesday’s game. “Taking what pitchers are giving him, that’s part of his game. Being an off-field hitter, he has shown some power and the ability to shoot balls the other way.”

Just don’t expect the 31-year-old veteran of nine seasons to be patient at the plate.

“I think the more traditional leadoff-type guys see pitches and try to get on base,” said Kiermaier, who has mostly hit sixth through ninth this season. “I am an aggressive hitter and I like to swing early. If I feel like I am going to get a pitch to hit, and I see it, I am going to swing. No matter where I am hitting, I take the same approach no matter what.”

Kiermaier’s recent surge has lifted his season’s average from .174 to .255. His six home runs, in 110 at-bats, lead the team and are two more than he had in 348 at-bats last season.

Stingy Shane: Shane McClanahan blanked the Marlins for six innings Tuesday night and has allowed one run in his last three starts, all wins. The 25-year-old lefty has seen his ERA drop from 3.06 to 2.06 during the streak, which has lifted his record to 4-2.

McClanahan struck out nine Marlins to give him an MLB-best 74 in 52 1/3 innings.

“I don’t know how much better he can continue to get,” said Cash. “He has been pretty special for us. I like that he has been finding the consistency. We talk about how the real good pitchers, or real good players for that matter, in this league find a way to be consistent. That is what Shane is doing.”

Slumping Wander: Wander Franco is 2-for-39 in his last 11 games following a 0-for-4 Tuesday night against Miami. The slump has dropped his average from .322 to .255. He has been bothered by recurring leg issues the past couple of weeks and Cash said it remains a day-to-day situation with the young star.

Ras’s repertoire: Drew Rasmussen makes his ninth start this season for the Rays on Wednesday night against Miami. The 26-year-old righthander is 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA in his last five starts. A good part of his success has been due to a cutter/slider-type pitch. Prior to Tuesday’s game, Rasmussen noted he has been throwing the pitch in the low-to-mid-90s while his four-seam is in the mid-to-high-90s with some overlap.

“The movement profiles are different, but the velocities, the more they can blend, I think the better both of those pitches will play,” he said. “Basically, you have to choose if you are going to cover the top or if you are going to cover something taking a little bit of a left turn. Forcing hitters to have to kind of sell out in one location on one pitch is what I am trying to do right now. The quicker you can identify what the opposing team’s gameplan is, the quicker you can get on the road to success.”

Manny update: Cash noted that Manny Margot, on the 10-day IL with a strained right hamstring, has been playing in rehab games at Port Charlotte. “There is a very good chance that we are going to be looking to activate him soon,” he said.

The 27-year-old outfielder was in the midst of a career-best 11-game hit streak when he was placed on the injured list May 15. He was hitting .486 (18-for-37) during the streak, which lifted his average to .348. His 21 RBI lead the team.

Yankee Doodle weekend: The Rays face the Yankees for the first time this season when the AL East rivals come to the Trop for four games starting Thursday. Aaron Boone’s team is 30-13 for an MLB-best .698 winning percentage. They lead the Rays (25-17) by 4.5 games.

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