Kevin Kiermaier gave the baseball world yet another reason to stick with the mantra “don’t slide into first base” during the fifth inning of Tampa Bay Rays’ game against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.
Even the outfielder himself reiterated that old adage after the game, according to ESPN.
“You always see bad things happen when people slide into first base. I’m just trying to keep the inning alive.”
No, it wasn’t a head-first slide, but it was just as costly to the Tampa Bay Rays, who held their collective breaths late Thursday night hoping that Kiermaier, their star center fielder, would somehow be alright.
However, after seeing video of the feet-first slide that literally propelled Kiermaier over first base, it was pretty clear that his right hip had jammed into the base so hard that things were not going to turn out well.
Still, they held out hope that the injury was nothing more than a jammed hip. After a litany of tests — MRI, CT scan, x-rays, etc. — Kiermaier’s doctors discovered a hairline fracture in his right hip. This means the Rays will be without their speedy outfielder for at least six to eight weeks, with his return likely to be no earlier than August, MLB.com reports.
The two-time Gold Glove winner has uncharacteristically struggled on defense this season, having accumulated six errors. Yet, he was still doing well at the plate, having already hit seven home runs and was on pace to surpass his 2016 total of 20.
Even more so, the team is going to miss his speed on the basepaths and in covering center field. He’s stolen 10 bases so far this season and is ranked eighth in the American League with a 2.4 WAR.
Kiermaier is an important part of the Rays’ lineup, something that was made abundantly clear last season when the was out for two months with a broken left hand.
The Rays went 14-34 while Kiermaier was out. With him in the lineup in 2016 the Rays were 48-54. While both are obviously not over 0.500 in winning percentage, the difference is striking. The Rays had a 0.333 winning percentage without their center fielder and a 0.471 winning percentage when he was healthy.
That is likely a part of the reason that the Tampa Bay Rays signed the 27-year-old to a six-year deal worth $53.5 million extension with an option for a seventh year during spring training this past March. He could potentially remain with the Rays until 2022.
Kiermaier is known for his unbelievable, often diving or leaping, catches in center field, and he is obviously ready to sacrifice his body for the Rays to get the win. However, at times like this, it costs them more than it helped them in defeating the White Sox by a score of 7-5 on Thursday.
The Rays have already called up top prospect Mallex Smith who will be the Rays new starting centerfielder, at least until Kiermaier’s return.
Rays’ skipper Kevin Cash told ESPN, “Mallex is going to play center for us. Everything we’ve heard from Triple-A — the Triple-A staff, [Bulls manager] Jared Sandberg — is that he’s a game-changer defensively. He’s played well both offensively and defensively there. So we’re going to go with him to start.”
He went on to say that if Smith didn’t work out, they would consider putting Steven Souza Jr. at the position.
The Rays are lucky to have Smith. Once considered the Atlanta Braves’ center fielder of the future, Smith was traded to the Seattle Mariners for pitching back in January and on the very same day to the Rays for prospects.
If Smith can live up to the hype he’s built up throughout his career in the minor leagues, known for the “endless potential” he has due to his “speed and athleticism,” as Wayne Cavadi wrote earlier this year for SB Nation’s Minor League Ball, the 24-year-old should be able to hold down center field until the return of Kiermaier.
If he can’t, the Tampa Bay Rays may be in real trouble.
[Featured Image by Brian Blanco/Getty Images]