Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) reacts as he runs back to the dugout after he was caught stealing second base during the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays took a leap of faith this past offseason, rewarding centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier with a long-term contract. One that until then was only reserved for third basemen, Evan Longoria. It was intended to be a smart investment by both parties. Two gold gloves and a platinum glove in his first few big league seasons. A respectable .253 average in under 1500 at-bats. Still could be, as a month can’t define an entire year, or career for that matter.

It does beg the question though: What’s wrong with Kiermaier?

A two-time Gold Glove winner doesn’t become an average outfielder overnight. For someone like Kiermaier, it takes more than a few bad games to rattle him to the point where he’s committing errors on a nightly basis. Ones that are so egregious it allows the opponent a little league home run.

On top of the atrocious defense shown lately, Kiermaier is mired in an offensive slump. He’s batting .211 for the year, with 39 strikeouts, 28 hits and seven RBI’s. That isn’t horrible but it is below his usual average for a season. He began well, a big reason why the Rays began 5-2. Since then, he’s struggled mightily. That includes a recent stretch in which he only had two hits in 42 plate appearances.

While he’s shown signs of breaking out, it’s worth questioning whether Kiermaier is feeling the burden of such a large investment. The six-year, $53.5 million extension was meant to give him peace, but did it also force extra pressure on him? Does he think this means he single-handedly must carry the team if they’re to make a run toward the postseason?  That’s possible, though don’t expect him to admit such a thing. Excuses aren’t his style.

Could it be physical? Maybe, as he was hit pretty hard on his right wrist in a recent game. Kiermaier also played through a nasty virus approximately three weeks ago, sapping him of energy. That’s why I didn’t raise this question earlier, knowing the challenges normal people face in recovering from an illness. Professional athletes are no different, other than their ability to play at sports highest level on a daily basis.

That should be behind him though, making the defensive miscues puzzling. His bruised wrist could still be bothering him, or he might be feeling the pressure associated with the contract extension. It may also be a little bit of both. Whatever it is, the Rays better hope this doesn’t linger much longer or their already slim playoff hopes might be gone before the All-Star break.

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