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Rays’ Wander Franco having some ups and downs

Notes | The second-year shortstop made a Jeter-esque play Friday, but is also in an 0-for-16 batting skid.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco's infield skills continue to impress manager Kevin Cash and his teammates.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco's infield skills continue to impress manager Kevin Cash and his teammates. [ SCOTT AUDETTE | Associated Press ]
Published May 14|Updated May 15

ST. PETERSBURG — Friday night, Wander Franco was being compared to Derek Jeter after making an outstanding play similar to the difficult backhand grab and jump throw maneuver the Hall of Famer perfected and executed many times.

Saturday, not so much.

The Rays second-year shortstop went 0-for-4, turning what had been a rough couple games into a legitimate slump. He is now hitless in his last 16 at-bats and has gone seven games without an RBI and 16 since his last homer.

“He’s being pitched tough,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s probably expanded (his strike zone) a couple times. But saying that, he’s also squared some balls up. He smoked the ball to center his first at-bat. I think he’s totally fine and he’ll get going.”

Though Franco’s running still appears restricted by leg muscle issues that forced him to miss two games previously, Cash said that is not affecting his hitting: “I think he’s good.”

Franco looked that way Friday when he made the Jeter-esque play, which he said wasn’t coincidental.

“That Derek Jeter play, I’ve seen lots of times,” he said before Saturday’s game, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “He has always been that type of player from Day 1 that I followed. I’m glad I was able to make that type of play.”

Franco said it’s not really a play that he practices. “It’s just instincts,” he said. “I just trust the talent. I try to anticipate what the play will be, then rely on my talent.”

Quite the catch

The most exciting play Saturday was also the most concerning, as Rays rightfielder Vidal Brujan raced back and toward center chasing Matt Chapman’s deep drive, then grabbed the ball as he fell backward and into the wall to avoid a collision with Brett Phillips, who was racing over from center. Cash called it “an interesting play.” Brujan said, via Navarro: “My main goal was not to run into each other. Thank God we didn’t. We were able to make the play.”

Medical matters

Among pitchers eligible to return when healthy, reliever JT Chargois (oblique tightness) is progressing and will throw in an extended spring game Tuesday, as will reliever Chris Mazza (back spasms).

Of those on a longer timetable, Shane Baz (arthroscopic elbow surgery) threw two innings Saturday in an extended spring game that Cash said “went very well.” Luis Patino (oblique strain) threw off the mound for the first time, albeit not at full distance.

Reliever Pete Fairbanks (right lat strain) got a good report from his latest MRI and was allowed to start playing catch Saturday, but will need six to eight weeks to build up before throwing to hitters, a step before starting a minor-league rehab. Reliever Nick Anderson (elbow surgery) is throwing bullpen sessions, with a late May/early June goal to face hitters.

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Brendan McKay (thoracic outlet syndrome surgery) remains “in a holding pattern” due to shoulder issues and is seeking additional medical opinions.

Miscellany

Second baseman Brandon Lowe was what the team said was a healthy scratch from the lineup about 2 1/2 hours before first pitch in an effort to get him a day off his feet. ... Yandy Diaz, who missed Friday’s game with a non-COVID illness, returned Saturday and homered, his fifth career leadoff homer. ... Lefty Jeffrey Springs, after his impressive first true start Monday, will start again Sunday. … Right-hander Josh Roberson, a 26-year-old pitching at Double A, was acquired from Miami to complete the trade for reliever Louis Head. … First pitch Sunday is at 1:40 p.m., the new start time a byproduct of an exclusivity window in MLB’s TV deal with Peacock.

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