Rays beat Twins; next stop, a date with Yankees

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MINNEAPOLIS — Randy Arozarena on a routine day can be one of the most exciting and impactful players on the field for the Rays.

With a bruise on his back and a sore right hand after being hit by Cole Sands pitches his first two times up, as Arozarena was Sunday, even more so.

Arozarena spent the rest of the afternoon getting his revenge in the 6-0 win over the Twins.

Arozarena stole two bases (and induced a throwing error) to set up runs, made a hard-to-describe tag-avoiding slide to score a run, laced an RBI double and made a running and diving catch in leftfield.

“He had a right to be upset,” Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “Not that anything was on purpose, but you get hit in the middle of the back and in the hand, who wouldn’t be upset about that?

“For him to steal a couple bags, make a nice play defensively, double off the guy who hit you twice, it always feels good to get revenge. I knew that was going to motivate Randy, and I knew he was going to try to do something above and beyond to get them back. That’s what he does. He’s an exciting player.”

Arozarena didn’t quite do it all, as Jeffrey Springs worked 5-1/3 innings in his second consecutive scoreless start, Kiermaier hit his team co-leading seventh homer in a two-hit day, and Ji-Man Choi and Vidal Brujan drove in runs.

The Rays (35-25) avoided being swept for the first time in nearly a year and gained what manager Kevin Cash said would be some welcome momentum before opening a three-game series on Tuesday against the majors-best Yankees. (They play them again next week at home).

“Heading into the off day going into an early big series against New York, ideally you come off feeling a little bit better about yourself,” he said. “We hadn’t the last couple days.”

Arozarena was hit by pitches leading off the second and fourth innings, both on full-count fastballs. He was obviously upset at the time, dropping his bat and throwing his elbow guard the first time, slamming his bat to the ground after the second, taking slow walks to first and long looks at the mound.

He said later he didn’t think either was done intentionally by Sands, a Tallahassee native who played at Florida State, teaming with and remaining close with Rays shortstop Taylor Walls.

But that didn’t lessen the sting.

“They did hurt a lot,” Arozarena said.

Cash praised Arozarena for staying focused on helping the team win: “There’s frustration, but he kept his composure, went out there and played a good game.”

Acknowledging “a little extra motivation,” Arozarena said, “stealing the bases was my revenge for it.”

He swiped second in the fourth and third after doubling in Manuel Margot in the fifth, both leading to runs. Which was a bit of an accomplishment, anyway, as Arozarena came into the game having been caught stealing a league-leading five times in 15 attempts and making seven other outs on the bases.

“I think he gave me a little bit of energy,” Arozarena said of Sands. “When you get hit by a pitch you know you lose your at-bat, so the least I can do is steal a base. (Sunday), I was able to steal two bases and still be able to (run the bases) correctly.

“Even though it hurt, you’ve still got to be able to play the game and be a part of it and be aggressive.”

Arozarena also was aggressive scoring from third in the fourth inning, breaking for home on Walls’ sharp grounder to first and then somehow getting his left foot across the plate to avoid the tag by catcher Ryan Jeffers.

“I don’t know exactly how I did that,” Arozarena said. “But I knew I just had to get my foot in. I can’t really explain it. I was just trying to be safe.”

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