ST. PETERSBURG — Wander Franco said returning to the Rays lineup Friday after two weeks on the injured list due to a right-hamstring strain was as exciting as making his late-June big-league debut.
And by the end of the night, he had reason to be happy. He drew a walk to open the sixth, in his fourth at-bat, to extend his on-base streak to 40 games, three shy of Frank Robinson’s record 43 for the 1956 Reds, the longest for any player age 20 and under.
Before that, Franco struck out, flied to left and popped out to first. After the walk, he slapped a double.
“It is nice to have him back,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “He plays with a lot of energy and looked pretty healthy.’’
Franco left in the first inning of the Sept. 10 game at Detroit. Starting that night, the Rays went 6-7 without him, averaging 4.15 runs a game and hitting .228 with a .708 OPS. In the 67 games before that, starting with Franco’s June 22 callup, they averaged 6.03 runs a game, hit .256 and posted a .796 OPS.
Franco said his hamstring felt better after a few days of rest and rehab, but the Rays opted to handle him cautiously. They had him spend three days with Triple-A Durham, including a simulated-type game after Wednesday’s rainout, then playing seven innings Thursday. “I just wanted to feel good, first off,’’ Franco said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I went up there to get a couple at-bats and get some work in for two games. And I felt really good coming out of it.’’
To make room for Franco, shortstop Taylor Walls was optioned to Durham.
Kiermaier: Jays deserved suspensions
After being hit by a pitch Wednesday against Toronto, centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said he was glad to see Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki suspended three games by Major League Baseball and manager Charlie Montoyo one. “I’m happy, very happy about that,’’ Kiermaier said. “They deserve it. That’s all I’ll say. I’ve moved on from that. It is what it is. They have to live with that.’’ He was hit in retaliation for picking up a Jays pitching data card after a play at the plate Monday and taking it to the Rays dugout. Kiermaier was involved in a slight incident Friday, when he had to avoid Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm, who was blocking his path as he tried to round the base and missed the bag. Kiermaier said they “squashed it right then and there” and had “no problem” with Chisholm. But Kiermaier also said he told the rookie: “I could have got you really good right there,’’ and added, “if that was the eighth inning and a tie ballgame, I promise you it would have been different.’’
Medical matters: Cruz, Thompson, Wisler
DH Nelson Cruz returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games because he was feeling sick. … Reliever Ryan Thompson’s season is officially over, as he soon will have thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in hopes to relieve the right-shoulder inflammation that has sidelined him since late June. He is expected to be ready for spring training. … Reliever Matt Wisler, who has pitched once since Aug. 15 due to right middle-finger inflammation, threw a 15-20 pitch bullpen session Friday, including some sliders, with no discomfort. Cash said they will have him do so again Sunday and, if all goes well, might activate him during the final road trip to get a better sense if he will be a playoffs option.
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• Three Rays’ minor leagues were in championship-round action: Montgomery lost 11-9 to Mississippi and trails 2-1 in the Double-A South series. Charleston (S.C.) lost 7-5 to Down East but leads the best-of-five Low-A East series 2-1. Bowling Green lost 4-2 to Greensboro, evening the best-of-five High-A East series at a game apiece.
• David Robertson worked a one-walk first inning as the opener, the first start in his 13-year major-league career and second ever, after a rehab appearance in Triple A in 2012. Cash acknowledged it was something “to explore” before the end of the season, which means it could be a postseason option.
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