CINCINNATI -- Kevin Kiermaier was sent back to Triple A Durham on Saturday afternoon, But before he left, he won a game for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Sure, Alex Cobb had a hand in the Rays 1-0 win against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park with his seven scoreless innings. So did James Loney, whose first home run of the season turned out to be another game-winning hit for the first baseman.
But Kiermaier, playing center field and making his first big league start, threw Joey Votto out at the plate in the fourth inning to nip the Reds' lone scoring chance of the afternoon.
“That's the play of the season so far,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He's an exceptional outfielder. He's among the best already and he's not even playing in the big leagues. He's among the best major league outfielders today and he's only played one game here, actually, in the regular season.”
Kiermaier was called up Friday to give the Rays an extra bench player for this series in a National League park where designated hitters are prohibited. He was optioned after Saturday's game to make room for Erik Bedard, who joins the bullpen today.
“I have my head held high,” Kiermaier said. “I still got some things to work on down there. I'll just be waiting for my name to be called again and an opportunity I can get.”
Kiermaier was in the lineup Saturday, because Maddon felt the outfield from left to right of David DeJesus, Kiermaier and Matt Joyce was best suited to face Reds starter Alfredo Simon.
He made his major league debut last September in the one-game playoff against Texas and played again two nights later in the Rays Wild Card game victory at Cleveland. Promoted to the big leagues for his defense, Kiermaier did not have one ball hit to him during those two games.
Cobb said he's heard of Kiermaier's reputation during the past few seasons.
“All that's been going on is talk, talk, talk hyping this guy up, and I saw it first hand” today, Cobb said, “and it was unbelievable.”
“Defense is my bread and butter,” Kiermaier said, “and I got to stay top-notch at it.”
That's why the Fort Wayne, ind., native dragged his younger brother Steve to the Fort Wayne Tincaps indoor batting cages during the offseason to work on his defense. Steve would roll baseballs so his older brother could work on the technique used to scoop up a ball and the leg work needed to make a strong throw.
And that's how it played out.
Votto was on second base with a double after DeJesus lost the fly ball in the wind and sun. Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who in the top of the inning, robbed Kiermaier of his first big league hit, singled through the middle.
“I said if anything is hit to me I'm going to throw him out,” Kiermaier said. “It's my favorite thing to do out there on defense. I told myself field it first and make a good throw. When I saw it hit to me I was ready to make a play.”
Kiermaier charged the ball, came up throwing and fired the ball to catcher Ryan Hanigan.
“Big play, man,” Hanigan said. “Great throw. That saved the game.”
Hanigan easily tagged out the sliding Votto.
“It felt phenomenal watching that umpire call him out,” Kiermaier said.
It was the second straight win for the Rays and their fourth consecutive one-run victory.
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