By Steve Hunt/Special to the Journal
ARLINGTON, Texas – For a third straight year, Tampa Bay is heating up down the stretch and could again earn a spot in the American League playoffs. The Rays’ current leadoff man is Desmond Jennings, a former two-sport standout at Itawamba Community College.
Through 104 games, he is hitting .247 with 10 home runs, 28 RBI and 28 stolen bases.
Tampa manager Joe Maddon likes what he has seen but also realizes this is only the start for Jennings. “Des has done a fine job. Been a bit inconsistent overall and he’d be the first one to tell you that. I still believe he’s going to be a tremendous leadoff hitter,” Maddon said. “You’ve got to understand how young he is, how inexperienced he is on the major league level.”
The 25-year-old Jennings, who can play center and left field agrees. “Could be better, definitely could be better. It can’t go anywhere but forward,” he said. “Going to try to win some more games and finish the year on a good note.”
Heading into this season, he had 80 games of big-league experience, including 63 games with the Rays in 2011, a year he split between Tampa and Triple-A Durham. This year marks his first full season in the majors and it’s been a big adjustment.
“It’s tough. It wears on you. It’s mentally tough on you,” Jennings said. “You go through your ups and downs but you get through it. You just battle and hang in there. It’s a grind. It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.”
But Jennings doesn’t just have regular-season experience, he also has six games of playoff experience and playoff baseball is something he’d like to experience again.
“That’s what you play for. The first step is to get to the postseason. That’s when the real fun baseball starts,” Jennings said. “That’s what you play the game for-to make the postseason and give yourself a chance to win the World Series.”
Even though he’s blessed with a huge upside, he still needs more games to begin tapping into his immense potential more than he already has. “This guy’s going to be a force to be reckoned with for years. Incredible speed, incredible baserunning instincts, got more power than people realize,” Maddon said. “Fine defender. He’s a really good baseball player but he’s young and he’s going to keep getting better.”