ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Travis d’Arnaud is quietly making the most of an opportunity to resurrect his career with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The soft-spoken catcher who also played for the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers this season has rebounded from a miserable opening month to not only play himself into a role with the youthful Rays but become one of the club’s most consistent players.
“He’s been right in the thick of everything we’ve done good offensively,” manager Kevin Cash said.
“He’s been our best player for the last month and a half. Consistent as can be, clutch – all the factors you want to see in a teammate,” centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier added. “We wouldn’t be where we are right now without him. That’s nothing but the truth.”
The Rays, who were off Thursday, have bounced back from a tough stretch to win seven of their past 10 games. At 66-50, they currently hold the second AL wild-card spot, a half-game ahead of the Oakland Athletics.
The 30-year-old d’Arnaud, who missed most of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, is grateful for a fresh start after starting the season with the Mets and also spending less than a week with the Dodgers, who sold him to Tampa Bay for $100,000 on May 10.
“It’s been good,” d’Arnaud, a .249 career hitter who played parts of seven seasons with the Mets before hey released him May 3.
When the Dodgers called, the native of Southern California was elated.
“It was cool that it was the hometown team I watched growing up. So to be there for those days was a dream-fulfilling moment for me,” d’Arnaud said. “But ultimately, getting picked up by the Rays was the path that was destined, and fortunately for me the coaches and all the players here welcomed me with open arms. The transition has been nice and smooth.”
Since starting the year in a 2 for 24 slump in 11 games for the Mets and Dodgers, d’Arnaud has batted .283 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 55 games with Tampa Bay.
He’s been one of the hottest hitters in baseball since July 1, batting .337 with four doubles, eight homers and 27 RBIs over his last 24 games.
He hit a walkoff homer to beat the AL East-leading Yankees at Tropicana Field on July 6, swatted three home runs out of the leadoff spot to key another win at New York on July 15, and he’s been every bit as solid defensively as the Rays thought he would be.
“The way he came in and established himself with the pitchers was really all we were hoping for. Anything we got with the bat was going to be kind of a bonus,” Cash said. “But he’s taken it to a different level. He’s been one of our most potent bats. He’s been one of the best in the American League this past month. Hopefully that continues.”
All d’Arnaud, whose current nine-game hitting streak matches his career best, felt he needed was a chance to play his way back into form.
After missing most of last season with an injury, it was not easy to get re-acclimated to major league pitching.
“I had a whole year off from baseball,” he said. “It’s different when you’re facing younger guys and you see a lot more mistakes vs. a big league pitcher where they know where the ball is going better and have more advanced game plans. It was just something I had to go through and experience.”
Kiermaier said a change of scenery can make a difference, too.
“I think he used getting released as a chip on his shoulder. Not that they were saying he wasn’t good enough or anything like that, but it’s nice to go to a place where you’re wanted,” Kiermaier said. “We wanted him. We needed him. And little did we know what we were going to get. He’s having another coming out party, and it’s fun to watch.”
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