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Rays journal: Wendle’s pending return leaves Rays pondering how to keep hottest hitters in lineup

Joey Wendle could return from the IL on Saturday. How will the Rays fit him in the lineup.

ST. PETERSBURG — It’s a good problem to have, and the Rays have plenty of moving parts, but fitting those parts into the starting lineup will become more difficult when infielder Joey Wendle returns from the injured list.

That could happen this weekend. Wendle saw his first game action since going on the IL with a hamstring injury, playing Wednesday in an extended spring training game. Wendle said he was aiming for a Saturday return against Boston.

Combine that with the fact that some of the Rays’ hottest hitters — Austin Meadows, Avisail Garcia and Brandon Lowe — have shined in everyday roles and Wendle’s return will create some lineup challenges.

Meadows and Garcia have played their way into the everyday lineup, with one starting in rightfield and the other filling the DH role on most nights. Meadows has blossomed in the leadoff spot, and with increased playing time, Garcia has played well. He entered Wednesday hitting .452/.485/.710 over his past seven games after starting off 4-for-24.

“You play every day, you make the adjustments, you see and get more at-bats and you make the adjustments,” Garcia said. “So I’m trying to do the best for my team. Play hard and never give up an inning or anything — defense, hitting. I’m feeling great.”

Garcia had a big presence in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Baltimore, driving in three and hitting a two-run homer to give the Rays the lead.

“We’re going to have some challenging decisions someday when our (injured players) get healthy again,” manager Kevin Cash said. “But (Garcia) is a tough guy not to have in the lineup, that’s for sure. We like when he comes up in game situations, in big at-bats. It can change a game for us, and it did (Tuesday).”

Lowe has filled in admirably for Wendle at second, but when Wendle returns and slots back into the position, the Rays will have to find a spot for Lowe. The natural spot would be DH, but getting both Meadows and Garcia into the lineup has clogged both of those spots.

Wendle played five innings at second and went 2-for-5 Wednesday. He is slated for another extended spring game Thursday, getting time at short and third. Wendle is one of the team’s most flexible players defensively, so he could find his way back onto the field in a variety of infield positions.

Caught stealing ... twice?

Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier earned a dubious distinction in Tuesday’s win after he was charged with two caught stealings in the same inning.

In the seventh, Kiermaier successfully took second base, but the official scoring was that shortstop Jonathan Villar dropped the ball attempting to make a tag and was charged with an error. Later that inning, Kiermaier was hung up between second and third.

Kiermaier disagreed with the error call at second.

“Yeah, the play should have been made,” Kiermaier said, “but I truly believe it’s one of those plays where you can’t assume a situation like that. … Let’s just say an outfielder goes back to the wall and it pops out of his glove and over the fence. That batter is trotting around the bases. It’s a home run. You can’t count that as an error.”

It marked the first time that a player had been charged with two caught stealings in the same inning since the Reds’ Brandon Phillips on July 7, 2011.

Snell continues throwing

Blake Snell, who is on the injured list with a broken fourth toe on his right foot, said he planned to throw Wednesday despite the injury, and Cash said the left-hander did have a throwing session from 90 feet before the game.

"Really happy that he’s able to keep his arm in shape,” Cash said.

Cash said he hopes Snell doesn’t miss more than two starts.