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Cash confident Rays star Arozarena will break out against Dodgers

Tampa Bay rookie sensation Randy Arozarena gets his first hit of the World Series, a ninth-inning single in the Rays' game-two victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers - RONALD MARTINEZ / ©AFP
Tampa Bay rookie sensation Randy Arozarena gets his first hit of the World Series, a ninth-inning single in the Rays' game-two victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers - RONALD MARTINEZ / ©AFP

(AFP)

The Los Angeles Dodgers are treating Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena with kid gloves in the World Series, but the Rays’ rookie revelation continues to hit major league post-season milestones.

Arozarena singled off Dodgers relief pitcher Jake McGee in the ninth inning of the Ray’s game two victory over the Dodgers on Wednesday, his first World Series hit.

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His 22nd hit of the playoffs tied him with former New York Yankees great Derek Jeter for the most by a rookie in a single post-season.

And Rays manager Kevin Cash is confident Arozarena — the first non-pitching rookie to be named Most Valuable Player of a League Championship Series — will break out against the Dodgers pitching staff.

“I don’t blame anybody for being very careful with him,” Cash said of Arozarena, who walked once in game one and twice in game two.

“They’re throwing him a heavy dose of breaking balls. He’s going to get one here eventually,” Cash said. “He’s going to get timed up and see it. We saw him make those adjustments against New York and Houston, and he’s going to do it again here, too.

“I’m impressed — we’re all impressed — with what Randy’s plate discipline has been. He’s still making good decisions at the plate, which is very encouraging for a young player.”

Arozarena hit .321 (9-for-28) with four home runs and six runs-batted in the Rays’ ALCS victory over the Houston Astros.

That included a two-run homer in the first inning of game seven against the Astros that was his seventh of the post-season, a record for a rookie in a single playoffs and one shy of the overall record for homers in a single playoffs of eight shared by Barry Bonds, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran.

“This has been very exciting, I’ve had a lot of help from my teammates,” Arozarena said on the eve of game one. “Being an MVP of the championship series I didn’t expect, but well, I’m seeing the ball very well and to be in the World Series now is something incredible.”

It seems an unlikely leap to stardom for a lanky kid from Pinar del Rio in Cuba who whose first sporting love was football rather than baseball.

He played for his hometown Vegueros in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons before fleeing Cuba in a small boat and finding a home in Mexico — where he played for the Toros de Tijuana of the Mexican League and the Mayos de Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League.

Arozarena’s daughter was born two years ago in Mexico, and it’s from Mexico that he landed in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league farm system.

Arozarena, acquired by the Cards for $1.25 million, made his big-league debut for St. Louis in 2019, hitting .300 in 20 at-bats and even appearing in five playoff games.

– ‘Remarkable’ –

He piqued the interest of the Rays, who gave up their top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, minor-league catcher Edgardo Rodriguez and a draft pick to acquire Arozarena and Jose Martinez.

At the time, Martinez was the more highly touted of the two.

Arozarena’s progress in the minor leagues this year was slowed when he was placed on the Covid-19 list after a positive test in July.

He didn’t make his season debut until August 30.

Now he has the second-most total bases in a single playoffs with 48 — behind the 50 of David Freese in 2011 — and has been dubbed by teammate Kevin Kiermaier “the best player on the planet.”

“When you’re sitting there watching it first-hand,” Cash said during the ALCS, “it’s pretty remarkable what’s taken place.”

Rebecca BRYAN

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