Rays phenom Wander lands on 10-day IL

September 11th, 2021

DETROIT -- The nice thing about the American League East-leading Rays this season is that they’ve typically found ways to win no matter who is -- or isn’t -- in the lineup on any given day.

It’s a strength that will be tested at a crucial point in the season after left Friday’s 10-4 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park with right hamstring tightness. Franco was placed on the 10-day injured list Saturday.

First, the good news: Rays manager Kevin Cash said Saturday that the recovery timetable is between two and three weeks, but he hoped Franco's "youth and athleticism" would work to his advantage and spell a return before the end of the regular season.

"It's still really early," Cash added. "We'll find out, have a better sense, in probably another week how he's responding to treatment and go from there.

"He's frustrated, disappointed, but I think [he's] also understanding of the situation and how important he is. We're not going to let him turn whatever grade [the strain is] rated at into a higher grade, or pull the thing where he misses a substantial amount of time."

In the meantime, Franco's streak is still intact. His first-inning knock off starter Tyler Alexander on Friday rocketed up the middle at 107.5 mph and extended the 20-year-old’s on-base streak to 39 games. He’s just four games shy of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson -- who holds the record for the longest streak by a player age 20 or younger in American League or National League history -- and ranks third on the franchise list.

The single was a great way to begin the three-game series in Detroit, and when Nelson Cruz stroked a hard liner up the third-base line for a double on the next play, the Rays looked more than ready to tame the Tigers.

Except Franco began holding his rear upper right leg after advancing from first to third. Cash and head athletic trainer Joe Benge jogged out to third base, and after a brief chat, they returned to the dugout with Franco between them.

Franco said the hamstring began pulling as he pushed off second and headed for third, with the speedster intent on scoring on the play until he felt a twinge and thought it best not to push it.

“That's a base hit that I would normally score on,” said Franco, who said he dealt with a similar issue during 2019 Spring Training.

Not long after Franco’s exit from Friday's game, Triple-A shortstop was pulled from Durham’s game with one out in the sixth inning. Walls was recalled to the big league club when Franco landed on the IL.

“The hope is that we caught it early enough where it's more strain and not a pull,” Cash said on Friday.

Walls, a switch-hitter and gifted defender, has already seen extended time with the parent club. Walls was promoted for the first time on May 22, after the Rays dealt starting shortstop Willy Adames to the Brewers, and remained with the club until Franco’s Major League debut on June 22.

"I hope all goes well with Wander," Walls said Saturday. "This team needs him; I don't think anybody would argue with that. Hopefully he gets well, and hopefully, while I'm up here, I can stay up here and help the team win."

The 25-year-old Walls was the Rays’ Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and ’19, and he has eight defensive runs saved at shortstop with Tampa Bay this season.