Wander feels better but gets night off

September 3rd, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- A day after having to leave the Rays’ 4-0 loss to the Red Sox due to a headache, Rays rookie shortstop was feeling better but was not in Tampa Bay’s starting lineup against the Twins on Friday night.

Manager Kevin Cash said Franco slept well, saw a doctor on Friday morning and was in “a much better place” when he reported to Tropicana Field on Friday afternoon. The Rays held him out of the lineup and didn’t have him take part in pregame infield drills or batting practice, but Cash said he expects the 20-year-old switch-hitter back in the lineup later this weekend if his condition continues to improve.

“Everything checked out,” Cash said. “We don't know if it was the play [at the plate] the night before or just a headache popped up. But whatever it was, it was enough to make enough sense to get him out of the ballgame, run some tests on him. And fortunately for him and us, they were negative.”

With Franco out, fellow rookie shortstop Taylor Walls started at shortstop Friday night at Tropicana Field.

After fouling off a full-count changeup from Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez in the seventh inning of Thursday night’s series finale at Tropicana Field, Franco stepped out of the batter’s box, winced and rubbed his right ear. Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez noticed the same thing the Rays did -- that Franco seemed uncomfortable -- prompting a visit from Cash and first assistant athletic trainer Mark Vinson.

Franco insisted he could stay in the game to finish the plate appearance, so he took ball four from Rodriguez to extend his historic on-base streak to 33 games. Then, Franco motioned toward Tampa Bay’s dugout that he needed to come out due to a headache.

Cash wondered after the game if Franco might have felt some “carryover” from his slide into home plate in the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s game, a play that didn’t seem to bother Franco at the time, and said the club would continue to monitor him for concussion symptoms. That concern was apparently alleviated by the tests he underwent Friday morning, however.

Franco appeared to be grimacing, touching the right side of his face near his ear and grabbing his helmet throughout his final plate appearance Thursday. It’s unclear what caused the headache, and he showed no prior signs of discomfort throughout the game.

“We kind of saw him wincing or grabbing the side of his helmet or something,” Cash said Thursday night. “Vázquez kind of gave a look in the dugout, like, ‘I don't know if he's right right now.’ So we came out there, talked to him. He was pretty adamant about wanting to stay in to finish the at-bat, but immediately thereafter, he kind of said, ‘I need to come out.’”

Franco was then replaced at first base by pinch-runner Joey Wendle. Franco stayed in long enough to reach another significant milestone in his on-base streak, however.

Among players 20 years old or younger, Franco’s 33-game streak is now tied for the third longest in AL/NL history with the Pirates’ Arky Vaughan (July 12-Aug. 10, 1932) and the New York Giants’ Mel Ott (Aug. 24-Oct. 6, 1929), both Hall of Famers. He trails only another pair of Hall of Famers in that department: Mickey Mantle (36 games, from 1951-52) and Frank Robinson (43 in 1956).

Regardless of age, Franco’s streak is the longest by a rookie shortstop since Hanley Ramirez reached in 36 straight games for the Marlins in 2006. It is also the longest active on-base streak in the Majors, the longest by a rookie in club history and the longest single-season streak by a Rays player since Johnny Damon reached in 39 consecutive games from May 3-June 14, 2011. Franco has not struck out in his last 34 plate appearances, and he has only two strikeouts in his last 75 plate appearances.