ST. PETERSBURG — Yandy Diaz was praised prior to Sunday’s game for being the Rays’ most productive, reliable and consistent hitter when he was named their Most Valuable Player in a unanimous vote by members of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Then the Rays received a jarring reminder of how much he means to them when he hobbled off the field and left the game against the Blue Jays prior to the third inning, having felt tightness in his right hamstring after legging out a first-inning single.
“I think he’s fine, going to be fine,” manager Kevin Cash said. “(He was) sore after the infield base hit to start, but way more precautionary getting him out of the game than maybe needing to come out.”
But with the Rays all but out of the division race, Cash said they won’t rush him back into the lineup Tuesday in Boston with the playoffs starting Oct. 3.
“It’s a wait and see, but there will be no urgency to play him if he feels anything,” Cash said.
Diaz, who has played through a series of other nagging injuries while compiling a splendid season, declined to talk to reporters about the injury.
Earlier, Diaz, who ranks second in the American League in batting average (.328) and on-base percentage (.408) and third in OPS (.923), said he was honored to get the award.
“It’s good to know that I’m the MVP of this team because I’m helping the team out, and I’m very happy about it,” he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro.
Cash said Diaz was a “pretty easy” choice.
“As many inconsistencies as there are in this game, or certainly our season, Yandy has been the model of consistency,” Cash said. “Even throughout our July, where wins were tough to come by and, offensively, we weren’t getting it done, he continued to keep that torrid pace. He’s just had a tremendous season.”
Reliever Kevin Kelly — who started the day dressed in a full Bucs Baker Mayfield uniform and running out of the dugout to the Fox NFL theme music, per orders of his teammates — was voted the Outstanding Rookie. Starter Zach Eflin received the Paul C. Smith Champion Award, which goes to the player “who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field.”
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With Aaron Civale feeling “under the weather,” per Cash, the Rays will push him back and start Eflin and Tyler Glasnow in the Tuesday-Wednesday series in Boston. That conveniently lines them up for Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-three Wild Card Series that would start Oct. 3 at Tropicana Field.
More medical matters
• Leftfielder Randy Arozarena, who left Friday’s game with right quad tightness, is feeling increasingly better and pushing to get back to action, though he wasn’t used Sunday in what seemed a prime pinch-hitting opportunity for Osleivis Basabe in the eighth.
• Reliever Robert Stephenson said he was “feeling a lot better” and expects to be full go on Tuesday, having been sidelined since waking up Friday with a stiff neck. “Something that’s been an issue on and off over the years, but usually never lasts too long,” he said. “This one doesn’t feel too bad, so I feel like it’ll go away.”
• Outfielder Luke Raley said he remains hopeful of returning from the injured list for the playoffs after receiving a shot designed to relieve inflammation causing numbness and a lack of strength in his left arm, stemming from a freak collision during batting practice Sept. 16. “I’m going to do everything I can to be back and be ready for the playoffs,” he said.
The Rays drew 1,440,301 fans for their 81 home games, an increase of 27.7% from last year and their best attendance since 2018. But their average of 17,781 is 27th overall in the majors. ... The Rays were a majors-best 53-28 at home. ... Rookie starter Taj Bradley, who earned praise from Cash for lasting seven innings, gave up two more homers, for a team-high 22 over 21 starts.
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