The Pittsburgh Pirates used the long ball on Monday to earn a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park.
Rays starter Blake Snell hit David Freese with a pitch leading off the fourth, then fell behind 3-1 to Jose Osuna, who promptly deposited Snell’s next offering over the wall in left for a 2-1 lead. It was Osuna’s team-leading fifth homer of the spring.
On the day Kevin Kiermaier signed a six-year, $53.5 million deal, the Rays center fielder fittingly legged out an infield hit in his first at-bat in the first inning, stole second base, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a single through the infield. He finished the day 2-for-2 with an RBI.
Jordy Mercer added to the lead with a two-run homer off Snell in the fifth, putting the Pirates up 4-1.
Snell, who will be the Rays’ No. 4 starter, made his fifth appearance (fourth start) of the spring and allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out three in five innings.
When asked if he’d missed locations on the home runs, Snell smiled: “Is down the middle bad?”
Right-hander Jameson Taillon, the Pirates’ No. 2 starter, allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four over 4 1/3 innings.
“Overall I thought it was OK,” Taillon said. “I got my pitches in, got my work in. Good and bad. Thought my delivery was kind of inconsistent. I’d nail some pitches consistently, a couple in a row. I’d lose it for a second. I’d find my way back into it.
“That’s kind of the fight. You have good days and bad days. You try to just shorten the gap between good and bad. I thought I did a good job of fighting through it. Got some good work in.”
Tampa Bay tied the score in the seventh on back-to-back RBI doubles by Mallex Smith and Patrick Leonard. But the Pirates answered in their next at-bat when Osuna grounded into a force out to drive home Trace Tam Sing and give the Pirates a 5-4 lead.
Kiermaier’s contract that ranks among the largest financial commitments the Rays have ever given a player.
“I can’t say it’s unbelievable because I’ve always dreamed of this, and I’ve worked … ever since I got to junior college to try to make this moment happen,” the two-time AL Gold Glove winner said Monday.
“I couldn’t be more thankful and grateful,” said Kiermaier, who turns 27 next month. “A lot of hard work and dedication can make a lot of great things happen.”
The deal could keep him in a Tampa Bay uniform through 2022 and includes a club option for a seventh season which – including incentives – could boost the total value of the contract to $66.15 million.
Not bad for a defensive whiz who continues to draw motivation from being overlooked when he was drafted coming out of Parkland College in Illinois.
“I was the 941st pick of the 2010 draft. I'll never forget that,” Kiermaier said.
Kiermaier joins Evan Longoria and Chris Archer as the only players to sign contracts guaranteed for at least six years by the Rays since principal owner Stuart Sternberg took control of the budget-minded franchise in 2005.
Longoria signed a six-year, $17.5 million deal as a rookie in 2008, then agreed to a six-year, $100 million extension in November 2012. Archer agreed to a six-year, $25.5 million contract after the 2014 season.
Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman called Kiermaier’s contract a “classic win-win” for an organization.
“You’re talking about the faces of our franchise right now, and guys who have made a commitment to the Tampa Bay Rays,” Silverman said.
“We don’t have the opportunity often to make these types of commitments – even to have the initial conversations, much less actually consummate a deal,” Silverman added. “But if you look at those three guys, you look at Kevin in the outfield, Longo at third base and Chris Archer on the mound, those are cornerstones of a franchise.”
Kiermaier made his major league debut in 2013 as a late-inning replacement during Tampa Bay’s Game 163 tiebreaker win over Texas. By the end of the following season, he was the Rays’ regular center fielder.
Kiermaier missed 48 games with a broken left hand in 2016. He batted .246 with 12 homers, 37 RBIs and a career-best 21 stolen bases.
And while he welcomes the financial security of a new contract, Kiermaier vowed big money won’t change him or the way he approaches the game.
“I’m never content with anything I’m doing. I always want to be the best player I can possibly be,” the native of Fort Wayne, Ind., said. “I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface yet. I know I can be a lot more well-rounded player. I hope to prove that this year and many more to come.”
Who: Rays (11-10-2) at Pirates (15-7-1)
Where: LECOM Park, Bradenton
When: Tuesday, 1:05 p.m.
Starting pitchers: Chad Kuhl is expected to start for Pittsburgh against Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb.
Expected Pirates to pitch: A.J. Schugel and Josh Lindblom are also scheduled to pitch for Pittsburgh. Ivan Nova is also expected to pitch in a minor league game at Pirate City.