CLEVELAND — The Rays will have sore-shouldered Yandy Diaz at the top of their lineup and catcher Francisco Mejia back from paternity leave for Friday’s opener of the best-of-three Wild Card Series against the Guardians.
Diaz has started just two games, and pinch-hit in two others, over the last 2 ½ weeks to rest his left shoulder, and he said Thursday there was still some soreness but he is ready to go on a daily basis.
“I feel good, thankfully,” he said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “It’s still a little bit of a bother but for the most part a lot better. … I’m ready to play three games (in a row) and then some.”
Mejia went home to Florida on Tuesday to be with his wife, Sorivel, for the birth of their third child. They had a girl Thursday morning, and Mejia flew to Cleveland Thursday night.
The final spot on the 26-man roster for this series, which is due at 10 a.m. Friday, was between right-handed relievers JT Chargois and Javy Guerra, with Guerra seeming to have a slight edge.
Ji-Man Choi’s recent resurgence put him back in the mix for playing time, and a start against Guardians ace Shane Bieber. Expect the Rays’ lineup to look something like this:
Diaz 3B; Wander Franco SS; Randy Arozarena LF; Harold Ramirez DH; Choi 1B; Manuel Margot RF; Christian Bethancourt C; Taylor Walls 2B; Jose Siri IF; Shane McClanahan, P.
Though the Rays lost their last five regular-season games — as well as 7 of 8 and 12 of 16 — manager Kevin Cash said they felt they were in a good spot to open the playoffs, as they rested several key players and pitchers during that time. “I’m very, very confident that their minds are fine,” he said.
Among those rested: High-leverage relievers Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks, who haven’t pitched since Sept. 28. Both threw extended bullpen sessions Tuesday.
Early starts and chilly temps
With ESPN showing all four Wild Card Series games on Friday and Saturday, the Rays-Guardians matchup was relegated to the early time slot both days, with first pitch at 12:07 p.m. That will create a spring training-type schedule, with players heading to the stadium before 9 a.m. and batting practice at 10:20. … After pleasant sunny weather for Thursday’s workout, it will turn cold and wet Friday, with rain expected in the morning, highs in the mid-50s and lows in the 40s.
Want more than just the box score?
Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Cash and Guardians manager Terry Francona were both asked Thursday about their close relationship going back to their Red Sox days, of which they talk about often and openly. Cash, 44, was the one poking fun, agreeing with a questioner that he should check his Progressive Field office for potential pranks or surprises and that rather than seeing Francona, 63, as an older brother, “I consider him a child. A young toddler.”
Bally Sports Sun will provide extended postgame coverage, with Brian Anderson and Tricia Whitaker onsite and Rich Hollenberg and Doug Waechter in the Tampa studio. … The Rays flew senior staff and the families of players/coaches/traveling staff to Cleveland on Thursday night. … The Guardians are slated to start Triston McKenzie in Game 2 and Cal Quantrill in Game 3. ... The reason Cash pinch-hit for Harold Ramirez in the seventh inning Wednesday: To ensure he finished the season hitting .300.
• • •
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.