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Wander Franco could rejoin Rays next weekend

Notes | The shortstop who has been out since May 31 is set to play rehab games starting on Saturday.
In games Wander Franco has started at shortstop, the Rays are 25-14. In games he has been the designated hitter or hasn’t played at all, they are 10-14.
In games Wander Franco has started at shortstop, the Rays are 25-14. In games he has been the designated hitter or hasn’t played at all, they are 10-14. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jun. 17|Updated Jun. 18

BALTIMORE — Shortstop Wander Franco has improved enough that the Rays are at least willing to talk about a possible potential return to the lineup as soon as next weekend.

Franco has been out since May 31 and limited before that by a right quad strain and other leg issues.

He is slated to be the designated hitter for the rookie-level Florida Complex League team Saturday (10 a.m. at North Port) and play shortstop Monday (7 p.m. at Port Charlotte). He then would move to Triple-A Durham for another two-three rehab games at Jacksonville.

If all goes well — in terms of health, performance, weather and other factors — Franco could rejoin the Rays during the June 24-26 home series against the Pirates.

“Potentially, yeah,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It is exciting. Hopefully, all goes well.”

Cash said Franco did well Friday in a second full workout in Port Charlotte. “Wander had another really good day,” he said. “Very encouraged by that.”

In games Franco — a dynamic all-around player — has started at shortstop, the Rays are 25-14. In games he has been the designated hitter due to leg concerns or hasn’t played at all, they are 10-14.

Reports on Luis Patino’s first rehab outing for Durham on Thursday were good, Cash said, both in terms of how he felt, having been out since early April with an oblique strain, and how he looked, throwing 46 pitches over 2-2/3 innings. “I still think it’s very early in this process,” Cash said.

Kiermaier set to return, Margot managed

Kevin Kiermaier’s tight left Achilles/calf felt “much better.” After testing it running Friday afternoon and getting a second straight night off, he is set to return to the lineup Saturday. Kiermaier left Wednesday’s game in the third inning. … Outfielder Manuel Margot was surprisingly not in Friday’s lineup after serving as the DH Thursday in New York. Cash said it stems from limiting activity as Margot is still dealing with leg issues after missing time in mid-May with a hamstring strain. “Travel day, just managing his leg workload,” Cash said. “Not sure how long this will continue, but want to get him feeling better. He’s not 100 percent, even though he will tell me he is.” Margot delivered a pinch-hit single in the eighth.

Pitching in

The Rays will be juggling their pitching staff for several days. They will have to drop a reliever after Sunday’s game, as all teams will be limited to 13 pitchers under a new Major League Baseball rule that was twice delayed to provide more build-up time for starters coming off the abbreviated spring training. They are likely to add a starter to face the Yankees on Tuesday, filling the opening created by Drew Rasmussen’s hamstring strain. Lefty Josh Fleming, an impressive 6-0 with a 0.98 ERA in six starts since being sent down, seems to be the top choice. He was scratched from Friday’s scheduled start for Durham with the expectation he will pitch Tuesday either for the Bulls or Rays.

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Miscellany

Ji-Man Choi extended his on-base streak to 16 games. ... The Rays are 2-8 in road series openers. ... The three earned runs allowed by the Rays in New York were the fewest by a team being swept in three games since 2011 (Seattle, two, at Washington). ... Jeffrey Springs takes a 12-1/3-inning scoreless streak into his Saturday start.

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