Blue Jays: Kevin Kiermaier winning over skeptics with hot start & infectious energy
The Toronto Blue Jays are coming off a successful extended road trip to start the season and a triumphant home-opening win. A catalyst for that has been the play of outfielder Kevin Kiermaier.
The veteran has hit .382 (13-for-34), hustled both on the base paths and in the field, and has played with the enthusiasm of a rookie despite being in his 10th MLB season.
All of that must have Jays fans feeling better about the signing of Kiermaier than when it was first announced in the Winter.
Kevin Kiermaier: Winning over skeptics one robbed homer at a time
Late in the 2021 season, while playing for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kiermaier slid home and was called out on a close play at the plate. Over the next seconds, he’d sneakily pick up a data card that was somehow dropped by catcher Alejandro Kirk. He returned to the Rays dugout and did not attempt to return the card to its rightful owners.
Blue Jays fans were understandably appalled by this lack of sportsmanship and although a modicum of revenge was exacted the next day when Ryan Borucki plunked KK in the back, no one was angling for Kiermaier to be on the team’s radar.
Fast forward 19 months and Kiermaier has his hands all over the season already. There was his hustle double that led to a critical run in the series finale against Kansas City, several big hits that led to five RBI in the wild comeback win over the Angels on Sunday, and great jumps that have given him the beat on several fly balls in the outfield.
He’s also shown an ability to drive the ball, as evidenced by his first home run as part of the Jays’ five-homer home opening win.
As great as his play has been, it’s his attitude and energy that have endeared Kevin to his teammates and the fanbase alike. He knows that in this powerful lineup, he’ll be hitting at or near the bottom of it most of the time. Kiermaier has not only accepted that role but embraced it, saying he wants to have more hits out of the nine-hole than any other player.
Although it was expected for the 32-year-old to receive the bulk of the playing time in center field and be an “everyday” player there, he has started at that spot in eight of eleven games, with Daulton Varsho getting the nod in the other games. Despite that, you’ll hear no complaints from Kiermaier, who will look to hit the 120 games played plateau for just the fourth time in his career.
From the moment he became a Blue Jay, Kiermaier has been saying the right things. That he wants to be part of a winning team, that he’s excited to join the organization, etc. Even some of his biggest detractors could likely see a time when he would win their support, they just didn’t think it would happen before the home opener. For the others, Tuesday’s home debut, which also included a classic Kiermaier catch, didn’t hurt.