BALTIMORE, Md. — Kevin Kiermaier has worn a Tampa Bay Rays uniform for nearly a decade now, but he did something Saturday night that he's never done before.
Kiermaier had three hits for the third straight game — a career first — and led the Rays to an easy 6-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Kiermayer has been on a tear this week, going 10-for-18 since Sunday, and he was rewarded by being moved into the leadoff spot on Saturday night.
The reward came with a message from his boss, manager Kevin Cash.
"Let me tell you what is message was to me right before the game. Our two-time manager of the year said, quote, 'don't make me look stupid,' '' Kiermaier said with a laugh. "I was surprised coming to the field today that I was hitting leadoff, but at the same time, I'm on a little hot streak right now and Cash likes to work in mysterious ways and ride those hot streaks.
"I was excited for it and bring some energy at the top of the lineup. I've been hovering down by the bottom of the lineup the last couple of years, and rightly so, but I feel locked in right now and I'm confident. I just want to keep doing it. It's fun.''
Kiermaier was just one of many stars in the game for Tampa Bay, which is now 24-16 and eight games over .500 again, tying its high-water mark for the year. Left fielder Randy Arozarena, who simply destroys Baltimore pitching, hit two home runs. He has now hit 11 of his 32 career homers against the Orioles in just 23 games.
"It's good for me, and good for the team to help us win. That's the goal,'' Arozarena said through translator Manny Navarro. "I respect any team and I try to keep my mind the same against the Orioles. It's just the preparations I do to be ready for any game.''
And best of all, pitcher Jeffrey Springs continues to pay dividends with his move into the starting rotation. He pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and only allowed one hit. He is now 2-1 on the year, with a nifty 1.32 earned run average. He threw a career-high 80 pitches and, outside of four walks, kept Baltimore at bay.
"He was really, really good tonight,'' Cash said. "The changeup seemed to be a big pitch for him, like it always is, but the efficiency is so impressive ever since we started to stretch him out.
"He's a really good pitcher, he's got really good stuff and he commands the baseball very very well. His willingness to throw the ball over the plate early, from pitch one, helps him a lot. Every pitch he throws is with strike intent.''
Arozarena started the fireworks early, taking Baltimore starter Kyle Bradish deep in the first inning when Ji-Man Choi walked after two strikeouts, suddenly quieting an amped-up crowd that was excited for the major-league debut of catcher Adley Rutschman, the top prospect in baseball who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 and a former college teammate of Rays pitcher Drew Rasmussen at Oregon State..
The Orioles moved much of the left field wall back about 26 feet this year to cut down on homers, but Arozarena's first home was just to the right of that, into the Orioles bullpen.
The second homer was a blast, deep into the left field seats that traveled 429 feet. He came, he saw (the wall), he conqured.
"When I first came to the stadium, playing left field, I could see it,'' he said. "On the second one, I knew it didn't matter where the wall was.''
The Rays added two more runs in the sixth innings. Kiermaier and Yandy Diaz led off the inning with singles, and Kiermaier scored on a Ji-Man Choi sacrifice fly. Diaz scored on a Harold Ramirez groundout, but slid awkwardly into home and strained his left shoulder. He left the game and is day-to-day, with the Rays doing further evaluations on Sunday.
The Rays got their sixth run on a long homer to right by Kiermaier. It was his fifth of the year, tying him for the team lead. Baltimore got its only run in the bottom of the inning, stringing together three singles off of Ralph Garza Jr.
Kiermaier's hot streak has come at a great time, especially with Manuel Margot (hamstring) and Brandon Lowe (back) on the injured list. Cash was surprised to learn that his defensive center fielder had never had three straight three-hit games before.
"He is on a roll. I didn't know that I would have guessed that would have happened as good as an offensive player as he's been,'' Cash said. "He's picking us up. The Orioles have pitched us tough. We've got to have big at-bats and KK has provided that.''
The two teams will play the rubber game of the series on Sunday. Corey Kluber will pitch for the Rays, with Spenser Watkins going for the Orioles.
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