DETROIT — That the Rays lost Friday’s game to the Tigers 10-4 was frustrating enough, between their wasted opportunities and the bad group effort by the bullpen, culminated by a seventh-inning grand slam off Andrew Kittredge.
But there was a bigger loss, as rookie standout Wander Franco left the game in the first inning with right-hamstring tightness that is “highly likely” to land him on the injured list.
Franco, 20, will have an MRI exam on Saturday morning, which will give team officials a better idea of the severity of the injury and how much time he will miss.
“The hope is that we caught it early enough where it’s more a strain and not a pull,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s going to miss some time. I don’t see how he avoids the IL; that’s highly likely going to happen.’’
Franco, who singled in his first at-bat to extend his on-base streak to 39 games, was injured trying to score from first on a double down the leftfield line. He said he felt the tightness as he pushed off second base and pulled up when he got to third, telling third-base coach Rodney Linares what he felt. After a quick visit from head athletic trainer Joe Benge and Cash, Franco walked off under his own power.
Franco said he felt better after the game and remained hopeful he would not end up on the injured list.
“We’ll get more answers (Saturday),’’ he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “It’s in God’s hands, and hopefully it won’t be so bad.’’
Cash said the Rays hadn’t decided yet how they would replace Franco, who has been an impact player with his bat, glove and speed. But it is worth noting that about 20 minutes after Franco was hurt, his most likely replacement, Taylor Walls, was called off the field during Triple-A Durham’s game.
The night only got worse for the Rays, as they wasted a fourth straight strong start from Michael Wacha (one run over five innings) and another clutch pinch-hit from Ji-Man Choi (now 7-for-8 off the bench), whose three-run double in the seventh gave them a 4-3 lead that the bullpen quickly gave away.
The loss was the Rays’ second straight and dropped their American League-best record to 88-53, though they actually moved a step closer to a playoff spot as the Blue Jays’ loss dropped the Rays’ magic number for clinching to 12. They also reduced their magic number for clinching the East Division to 12 as the Red Sox and Yankees lost.
Reliever Pete Fairbanks did most of the damage in the seventh. He allowed a leadoff double and a single, then a one-out walk to load the bases, while also dealing with issues he had with the mound, which led to his right knee buckling on a pitch.
“Just inconsistencies from Pete,’’ Cash said.
The Rays turned next to Kittredge. Cash acknowledged they were putting the All-Star and their most-consistent reliever “in a really tough position.’’
Jonathan Schoop ruined that plan, knocking a 1-2 slider that didn’t slide over the leftfield fence for a grand slam and a 7-4 lead.
“Just a hanger,’’ Kittredge said. “That’s a hanging breaking ball if I’ve ever thrown one.’’
After the strong effort from Wacha, relievers JP Feyereisen, Fairbanks, Kittredge and Shawn Armstrong worked three innings, combining to allow nine runs on eight hits (two homers) and four walks.
“Tonight was a little uncharacteristic,’’ Cash said.
Certainly not a good sign from a team that has relied heavily on its relievers to get to this point and will continue to do so in the postseason.
“It does hurt,’’ Kittredge said. “But like I’ve said before, we’ve got a ton of confidence down there in the bullpen, and I don’t think tonight’s going to change that. If we just continue to do what we do well, we’re going to be in a good spot.’’
Rays’ magic numbers
12 To make American League playoffs.
12 To win East Division.
The combination of Rays wins and losses by trailing team in playoff field (Toronto) and second-place team in division (Boston)
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.