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August 25, 2019
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Ji-Man Choi lifts Rays over Padres with homer

Ji-Man Choi lifts Rays over Padres with homer

Juan Toribio

SAN DIEGO — It’s been an interesting, and at times confusing, season for Ji-Man Choi. The Rays’ first baseman has dealt with some inconsistencies at the plate, but the club has continued to stick with him.
Choi, who was acquired from Milwaukee last June, became a big part of the

SAN DIEGO — It’s been an interesting, and at times confusing, season for Ji-Man Choi. The Rays’ first baseman has dealt with some inconsistencies at the plate, but the club has continued to stick with him.

Choi, who was acquired from Milwaukee last June, became a big part of the Rays’ late-season success in 2018, finishing the year with eight homers and an .877 OPS in 49 games.

But Choi hasn’t been able to consistently tap into his power as much as he and the club expected. On Tuesday, Choi showed glimpses of that potential, tallying three extra-base hits, including a two-run home run in the seventh inning to lead the Rays to a 7-5 win over the Padres at Petco Park.

Box score

“It definitely felt good to hit a home run,” Choi said through interpreter Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong. “It’s been a while since I felt like it was a home run as soon as I hit the ball, so that felt good.”

The 28-year old Choi made a rare start against a left-handed pitcher, but due to the struggles that Padres starter Eric Lauer has shown against lefties this season, Rays manager Kevin Cash inserted Choi in the middle of the lineup, and Choi delivered.

“What Ji-Man has done here the last couple of days has not been easy,” Cash said. “He’s basically an everyday player. He’s unfortunately, just with the schedule and the lefties we’ve faced, he’s kind of sat. He’s had a couple of pinch-hit at-bats, but he’s stayed positive, and certainly showed that he likes to play because he went in there and made the most of an opportunity.”

Choi’s first two hits on the night were ringing doubles off San Diego’s starter, but it was his 414-foot homer off righty Michel Baez that carried the Rays to their fifth straight win and their ninth in a row on the road. Tampa Bay extended its MLB-best road record to 40-22.

Before his second-inning double, Choi had gone 0-for-14 in his previous six games. However, Choi has shown that when he’s locked in, the Rays’ offense is much more of a threat. Choi has recorded 20 multi-hit games this season, with the Rays going 17-3 in those contests.

Choi’s big night helped the Rays overcome an early 4-1 lead after rookie starter Brendan McKay struggled in the first inning, allowing four runs on three walks. McKay, who has relied on command in his two years in the Minors, ran into some location issues on Tuesday, walking six over just four innings. In contrast, McKay entered Tuesday’s game with just three walks over 29 2/3 innings over his first six starts in the Majors.

“It was just one of those days where it took a while to get going,” McKay said. “I made a lot of quality pitches when it counted, which makes you feel a little bit better, but it frustrates me that the command that I usually have wasn’t there tonight.”

The 23-year old threw 83 pitches, but only 45 were strikes. The lefty, however, tallied seven strikeouts and was able to limit damage after allowing the four first-inning runs, which allowed the Rays to climb back into the game.

Austin Meadows connected on his team-leading 20th homer, while Willy Adames continued to impress, recording his fifth three-hit game of the season.

The Rays, who during June experienced some bad luck, had a play go their way in the sixth inning as Padres reliever Craig Stammen airmailed a throw home that allowed Adames to cross the plate and tie the game at four.

Tampa Bay now holds a three-game lead over the A’s, who lost to the Giants on Tuesday, for the second American League Wild Card spot.

“We don’t give up,” Adames said. “If we’re down, it doesn’t matter how many runs, we’re playing aggressive and trying to take advantage of any little opportunity that we have, and we did it today.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.



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