ST. PETERSBURG — Lefty Josh Fleming rejoined the Rays on Saturday, looking pretty much the same as before he was sent to Triple-A Durham on Aug. 30. But he came back in a totally new role, converted from starter and bulk-innings pitcher to short reliever, with a plan to use him in select spots against lefty hitters.
Fleming was in that role in his last six outings with the Bulls, allowing five hits and one walk over seven scoreless innings. He not only threw well but harder as the velocity on his sinker went up a bit.
“We want to see him in that bullpen role where he comes in and faces a couple lefties,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s always been really tough on (them) with the sinker and now the (velocity) did kick up; he’s sitting 93 (mph), popping a 94 here and there. So encouraged by that.’’
The Rays plan to get a couple of looks at Fleming over the final week of the regular season as they start making plans for the postseason.
“He should be a very viable option out of the bullpen to face lefties,’’ Cash said, noting Fleming’s proclivity to get ground balls plays well with the team’s strong defense.
Fleming said the instructions at Durham were simple — “Let it eat. Don’t worry about it. Just throw strikes and try and throw it as hard as you can’' — though it did take him a while to get adjusted. In essence he switched from a starter’s mentality of trying “to save bullets” to being more like his good friend, reliever Pete Fairbanks.
“When I’m facing three batters, I can just throw it as hard as I can and kind of feel like Pete, but I don’t throw as hard as Pete,’’ Fleming said. “It’s just nice to go out there and just try and dominate, like literally try and blow it by people.’’
A talk with Wander Franco, and a rest
Rookie shortstop Wander Franco was talked to about his poor judgment for taking an extra base late in Friday’s blowout win over the Marlins. He was not in the lineup Saturday. The Rays were leading 8-0 when Franco doubled to lead off the eighth. He then broke to steal third, though it was scored defensive indifference as the Marlins made no play. “Not ideal,’’ Cash said. “The game was probably decided (by) then. But it’s a young player that we talked to. Appreciate the way the Marlins went about it and (we) will try not to allow that to happen again. But that’s ultimately on myself and (third-base coach) Rodney (Linares) just for not staying on top of it.’’ Cash said Franco was not in the lineup because they didn’t want him to play three straight days after returning Friday from a two-week stint on the injured list with a right-hamstring strain. He’s expected back Sunday. With a walk before his double Friday, Franco extended his on-base streak to 40 games, three shy of the major-league record for players age 20 and under, set by Frank Robinson in 1956.
• Saturday’s announced crowd of 23,783 was a season high and a sellout. … In reopening the upper deck at Tropicana Field and rolling up some of the tarps, the Rays will increase capacity to about 30,000 for the first round of the playoffs and could expand it from there.
• DH Nelson Cruz was out of the lineup for the third time in the past four games, still feeling the effects of an undisclosed illness that left him tired. He pinch-hit in the seventh, flying out.
• The weekend series is a family affair for Rays outfielder Brett Phillips; Marlins third-base coach Trey Hillman is his father-in-law.
• Marlins third baseman Eddy Alvarez and manager Don Mattingly were ejected in the eighth.
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