CLEVELAND — The Rays made another seemingly surprising move Saturday afternoon, optioning slick-fielding shortstop Taylor Walls to Triple-A Durham.
The decision was made so the Rays could add another pitcher for Saturday’s game against Cleveland, for which they were planning to use all relievers, with right-hander Sean Poppen being called up from Triple-A. That was necessary after they traded scheduled starter Rich Hill to the Mets on Friday.
But Walls was likely headed to Durham, anyway.
Outfielder Manuel Margot is targeted to come off the injured list Tuesday, and the Rays were going to have to find room for him, with Walls and reserve outfielder Brett Phillips the most likely candidates to be sent down. That decision may have been an as simple as Walls having options to be sent to the minors and Phillips not, meaning the Rays would have to risk losing him on waivers.
Manager Kevin Cash acknowledged it was a “really tough” situation with Walls, saying there wasn’t anything they could tell him he needed to go to Triple-A to work on.
“He’s a major-league player,” Cash said. “We know he can help us, and he’s going to. A little bit of a roster crunch. We’ve got a lot of talented players right now, and we do need pitching. The ‘odd man out’ kind of came up. It was not an ideal situation. It wasn’t a fun conversation. We knew we were going to have something come up when Manny was coming off the IL. It came a little earlier because of the way the pitching has unfolded, and certainly with the trade from (Friday).”
With Walls sent down, Wander Franco will take over as the primary shortstop.
Walls has been impressive in the field following his May 22 promotion after the trade of Willy Adames to Milwaukee. He has already accumulated 10 defensive runs saved, second-most among big-league shortstops based on the advanced metric.
While Walls worked quality at-bats, his offense had been inconsistent and something of a struggle of late. He hit .211 over his last 20 games and was in an 0-for-14 skid that dropped his average to .212 and his OPS to .643.
Poppen, a 27-year-old Harvard product, was acquired from the Pirates in May for cash, having pitched in 13 big-league games from 2019-21 with Minnesota and Pittsburgh (including three this season).
Lefty reliever Ryan Sherriff was added to the taxi squad and would seem to be a candidate to join the bullpen on Sunday.
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