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Wander Franco gets first try at second base

Rays notes | The rookie shifts position as the team tries to maximize offense and keep defense strong,
Rays shortstop Wander Franco fields a ground ball against the Angels during a game on June 26.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco fields a ground ball against the Angels during a game on June 26. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Jul. 18
Updated Jul. 18

ATLANTA — Wander Franco has gotten to experience a lot in his first three-plus weeks in the majors.

On Saturday, that included his first appearance at second base, and just his fourth as a professional, after making 11 starts at shortstop and five at third.

Franco did okay, making a clean play on the first ball hit to him in the second inning, misplaying what should have been a double-play grounder in the third but recovering to get the out at first, and handling a couple of other chances

In building a right-handed heavy lineup to face Braves lefty Max Fried, and keeping the infield strong with ground-ball pitcher Josh Fleming starting for them, Rays manager Kevin Cash opted for Yandy Diaz at third, Taylor Walls at short and Franco at second.

The Rays didn’t consider it that big of a move, given that Franco started three times at second this season at Triple-A Durham before his June 22 callup. He also got time there during alternate-site workouts last year and this spring, and he often plays on that side of the infield in shifted alignments.

“We’ve got a high level of confidence wherever he is, and really any of our infielders,’' Cash said. “It’s different now than maybe it was 15-20 years ago. These infielders in today’s game, they play all over the diamond. So there’s familiarity there.

“So don’t really view it as that big of a deal. Still view Wander as just a really special player that we’re fortunate that we can utilize his versatility like we have with so many of our other players.’'

Cash said he didn’t know how often they would ask Franco to play second but appreciated his willingness to do so.

Franco experienced another majors-first during the game after singling in the first inning: He was picked off by Braves stater Max Fried.

It’s Taylor Walls’ world

It was hard to walk anywhere through Truist Park or the adjacent Battery area of shops and restaurants on Friday or Saturday without seeing fans in Taylor Walls shirts.

The Rays rookie knew a lot of relatives and friends from his hometown in Cordele, Ga., about 2½ hours south, and another group on the north side of Atlanta near Dahlonega, but he seemed touched by the turnout.

Walls originally expected about 500 to attend over the three-game series, but he gave up guessing. He said he went on Facebook after Friday’s game and saw numerous posts from people he didn’t know were there.

“There’s so many people coming, it’s really special to me, to just see the support that they all have,’' Walls said. “People who I might only see them on holidays, or maybe I’ve only reached out to them on social, somebody that’s been very distant to me.

“But now it’s like they feel they have a way to connect to me. This is the team that they’ve watched growing up their whole life and now I’m close enough to their home to be able to come and support me. It feels pretty good.’'

Miscellany

• The Rays were shut out for the fourth time. The six-run fourth inning matched the most they had allowed in a single frame this season, also at Boston on April 7.

• Kevin Kiermaier was excited to hear he is now third on the Rays’ all-time steals list, getting his 103rd Friday to break a tie with Ben Zobrist, though well behind Carl Crawford (409) and B.J. Upton (232). “I guess I’ll just be proud of third,’' Kiermaier said. “I’ll take any accolade I can get affiliated with this Rays organization. With how near and dear this organization is to my heart, I’ll take as many as I can get.’'

• Right-hander Chris Archer, out since April with an elbow issue, worked 1⅔ innings Saturday for Triple-A Durham in his second rehab outing, allowing two runs on three straight two-out hits, striking out two and throwing 39 pitches, 26 for strikes.

• Information should be available in the next week or so on the launch of outfielder Brett Phillips’ “Baseball is Fun’' T-shirt line.

• Pitcher Rich Hill, after being asked a long question on whether he wanted to see the current rule that puts a runner on second base to start extra innings stick around: “No.’'

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