TORONTO — Team MVP Yandy Diaz returned to the Rays lineup on Friday, his first onfield action since leaving Sunday’s game with right hamstring tightness.
Diaz was used as the DH and, naturally, started with a hit, his 172nd of the season, then walked and hit his 22nd homer, increasing his average to .330 before leaving for a pinch-hitter in the seventh.
“He looks really healthy,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Especially with a bat in his hand.”
Diaz said before the game he felt less uncomfortable, better, even “good,” but also acknowledged via team interpreter Manny Navarro that he wasn’t completely healed, that he felt “it a little bit, at least, in everything I do.”
He said his biggest worry was running from home to first, and his plan was to try not to think about it.
So when he did drill Yusei Kikuchi’s second pitch 100.2 mph up the middle for a leadoff single and ran out of the box, there was some discomfort.
“Initially off the bat when I took off I felt it a little bit,” he said, “but once I got warmed up later on in the game, it felt a lot better.”
He walked with two outs in the third but didn’t have to run as Harold Ramirez flied out. Then Diaz made it easy on himself in the sixth with a 427-foot, 111.1-mph two-run homer to left. “A lot better,” he said.
Cash talked with Diaz after the game and decided he would be off Saturday, then get some final tuneup at-bats on Sunday.
“As much as anybody on our roster, he’s probably the last guy that we’re worried about,” Cash said. “But he’s a big, big, big part of our team and it’s good to have him back.”
With his average up to .330, Diaz moved closer to Texas shortstop Corey Seager, who entered the day with an American League-leading .332 average and played later Friday night. Diaz is seeking to become the first Ray to win a batting title.
More medical matters
The Rays had a new injury concern arise, as rookie infielder Osleivis Basabe left the game after he “banged up” his left shoulder diving for a ball in the seventh. Cash said it did not appear to be serious but Basabe was sore.
Injured centerfielder Jose Siri (fractured right hand) and outfielder/DH Luke Raley (cervical strain) continue to work out in St. Petersburg with hopes of being ready for the Wild Card Series, with rosters due at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
“We’re kind of on their timetable,” Cash said. “They’re progressing. It’s going to come right down to the wire. But so far, we’ve heard good things, no setbacks. So they’re giving themselves a chance, which we’re encouraged by that.”
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The Rays held first place in the American League East starting on opening day, building a lead as big as 6½ games by June 30.
But they struggled mightily in July, losing their grip on the top spot July 20 when they lost the opener of a four-game series to the Orioles. And aside from two days when the teams shared the lead, the Rays were never able to get back on top.
The Orioles officially ended the race Thursday night when they clinched the division title, their first since 2014. Besides the cool T-shirts and bragging rights, the Orioles get a bye for the first round of the playoffs and will await the winner of the Rays’ Wild Card Series.
“Congrats to Baltimore,” Cash said. “They’ve had a tremendous season. Pretty remarkable how far they’ve come (having lost 110 games in 2021). Super talented. See if we get to see them (in the second round).”
Shawn Armstrong will be the opener on what looks to be mostly a bullpen game for the Rays on Saturday. ... Manuel Margot made two errors in centerfield Friday. ... The Jays lead the season series 6-5; the Rays have won the last five.
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