Rays’ Kiermaier ponders future after hip surgery ends season

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier expects to be ready for Opening Day next year after season-ending left hip surgery, but the team that will be with her is yet to be determined.

Kiermaier, 32, is in the final season of a six-year, $53.5 million contract signed in March 2017. The Rays have a team option for 2023, which they will likely decline.

As Kiermaier focuses on his rehab program, he also understands that this time with Tampa Bay dating back to his major league debut in 2013 might be over. He’s ready to stay with the Rays.

“I’m motivated, I’m motivated, it’s like, for me, chasing something again,” Kiermaier said on Saturday. “I’m going to do everything in my power to try to look like the player I was a few years ago, and I hope that a team, several teams will want me. That’s what I plan and I am very excited.

The three-time AL Gold Glove winner was using crutches when he appeared in the Rays clubhouse for the first time since surgery before Tampa Bay faced the Baltimore Orioles. He will use the crutches for another three weeks.

Kiermaier has hit .228 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 63 games this season.

One problem Kiermaier faces looking to the future is that the Rays’ Tropicana Field has an artificial grass playing surface.

“Part of me is like, should I play on grass every day, maybe,” Kiermaier said. “I’m so used to everything here. There are so many pros and cons, so many more pros, but grass is definitely a big deal.

“For me, there’s no better feeling than running onto Tropicana Field from the dugout to start a game,” he said. “It will forever be the thing I think about. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

Kiermaier said he has been in “very difficult condition” over the past year and a half due to problems with the labrum. He last played on July 9.

“My labrum was in terrible condition,” Kiermaier said. “It looked awful. (The doctor) showed me before and after pictures, and it was amazing that I played as long as I did.

Kiermaier is feeling much better than expected a week and a half after the operation and called the procedure a “complete victory”.

“Throughout this month that I’ve been down, I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things,” Kiermaier said. “Lots of memories here, I’ll try not to tear up, but I’ve learned that the things that can make me cry and cry quite easily are my kids and the Tampa Bay Rays.”

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