PORT CHARLOTTE (WDAE) -- The Tampa Bay Rays entered the final weekend before full squad workouts with almost every player having already reported, but one player seems determined to get back to his old form.
Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who reported officially Friday, spoke Saturday for the first time, and feels ready for 2019 to be his bounce back year.
"I feel better than ever," Kiermaier said. "I know every baseball player says that every year, but I say it with a straight face and I know I'm not lying through my teeth right now."
Kiermaier has missed significant time each of the last three seasons due to injury (a broken wrist in 2016, fractured hip in 2017, and torn thumb ligament last year), and he wants to be able to shed the notion that he's injury-prone.
"I've got a lot to prove to you guys [in the media], to my teammates, the fans, everyone," the two-time Gold Glove center fielder admitted. "I love where I'm at right now. I couldn't ask for anything else and now it's just my part to go execute and maybe win back some hearts from my performance last year."
And after an offseason and spring that saw Tampa Bay trade away a number of their big name players, such as third baseman Evan Longoria, pitcher Jake Odorizzi and outfielders Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson, Kiermaier was pleased to see the Rays make moves in this offseason to add talent, especially pitcher Charlie Morton, who Kiermaier admitted had his number.
"Quick stat line. First at bat off him: sac fly back in 2014 when he was with the Prates. I'm like 'He's OK.' Ever since then: strikeouts. I think I'm 0 for 8 with 8 punchies [strikeouts.]"
He's actually 0 for 9 lifetime against Morton, with 8 strikeouts.
GIBAUT DEALING WITH SORE LAT: Manager Kevin Cash said Saturday that RHP Ian Gibaut is going to be seen by the team's doctors due to a right lat strain.
"I don't think it's anything major," Cash said. "He came in and said it [hurt]. He didn't hurt it off the mound. It was one of those things where he threw a bullpen [Thursday], went home that night, felt fine, and then woke up a little cranky."
"It's just a little soreness," Gibaut said. "Just beginning of the year, working through the kinks, kind of."
Gibaut said he should only miss "a few days" with the injury.
CHOI'S ARRIVAL MEANS FOUR LEFT TO REPORT: Saturday saw 1B/DH Ji-Man Choi arrive to Port Charlotte after spending the entire offseason in Arizona for the first time. Only four position players have yet to report to Spring Training -- infielders Yandy Diaz and Lucius Fox, and outfielders Tommy Pham and Jesus Sanchez -- and all four are expected to be at Charlotte Sports Park Sunday, when position players are required to report.
SUNDAY'S SCHEDULE: Position players will have an admin day, while pitchers and catchers will have their final workout before the first full squad practice on Monday. Sunday's workout is scheduled to begin at 10:30.
Listen to comments from Cash, Kiermaier and Gibaut below!