Jennings' pair of blasts give Rays bright spot

Jennings' pair of blasts give Rays bright spot

Jennings' pair of blasts give Rays bright spot
ST. PETERSBURG -- Desmond Jennings was the lone Rays player who found a way to produce against Texas starter Colby Lewis on Monday night.

The 24-year-old rookie's blast in the fourth inning was responsible for Tampa Bay's only hit off Lewis in what proved to be a 4-3 loss at Tropicana Field. Jennings added another shot off Mike Adams to lead off the eighth inning, but it wasn't enough, as the Rays fell behind the Rangers in the American League Division Series, 2-1.

Jennings is one of only seven rookies in Major League history to hit two home runs in a postseason game, and he's the first to do so since teammate Evan Longoria accomplished the feat Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS.

"It felt good," Jennings said. "It was exciting at the time. We still had a chance to win, but we came up short."

Jennings entered the playoffs mired in a prolonged slump, riding an 0-for-26 skid that spanned the final seven games of the year.

That prompted a demotion from the leadoff spot to the No. 8 hole in the lineup for Game 1. An improved approach at the plate resulted in Jennings being back in his customary top spot for Game 2, and the results have followed.

Jennings is batting .364 (4-for-11) with two homers and two RBIs in three postseason games so far. Rays manager Joe Maddon felt a pair of off-days this past week helped the left fielder regain some of his past success, and Maddon likes the way Jennings is currently swinging the bat.

Maddon believes most of Jennings' improved production can be traced back to a better eye at the plate, which bodes well for the future.

"The quality of the take, as an old hitting coach, really matters to me," Maddon said. "I thought he was taking pitches better. When you are taking pitches better, you are seeing the ball, not as jumpy, and then, if they throw it in the right spot, you can do what he has done.

"Two homers, some good at bats. He is not intimidated ... one eye on the present; one eye on the future. This guy had very limited experience here, and he is already doing those kinds of things."

Jennings' effective night began in the first inning, even though he didn't reach base. He worked the count full against Lewis in a tough 10-pitch at-bat before eventually grounding out to shortstop Elvis Andrus.

That provided him an opportunity to get an extended look at Lewis' stuff, and it reaped big dividends in the fourth when he hit a first-pitch fastball over the wall in left field to lead off the frame and open scoring.

"I felt like I just saw the ball well out of [Lewis'] hand," Jennings said. "He threw me some pitches to hit in the first at-bat. I felt like I missed a couple. Second at-bat, I was just looking heater first pitch of the inning."

Jennings' success continued in the eighth, when he once again led off with a solo shot over the wall in left field -- this time in the sixth pitch of an at-bat against Texas reliever Mike Adams.

The Rays head into Game 4 facing a must-win situation. They'll need Jennings to set the table for the the heart of their order.

It's a scenario that is familiar to everyone in the clubhouse after Tampa Bay played most of September in a pressure-packed environment while chasing Boston for the AL Wild Card.

Jennings, who hit .259 with 10 homers and 25 RBIs in 63 games after he was called up from Triple-A, believes the late-season experience will help the club on Tuesday afternoon, with the hope of sending the ALDS back to Texas for a final decisive game.

"We've got to win tomorrow, we know that," Jennings said. "Just have to come out and do it. We're not down on ourselves, we know we've still got a chance."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.