ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays returned home to Tropicana Field on Thursday to a welcome sight: rookie phenom Wander Franco hitting in the cage and working out on the field.
Franco has been on the 10-day injured list since Saturday due to right hamstring tightness, but he’s making encouraging progress toward a return at some point before the end of the regular season. When the 20-year-old shortstop went down in Detroit last week, manager Kevin Cash initially said his recovery timeline would range between two and three weeks. The way things are going, it seems like he’ll be on the early side of that projection.
“We're thrilled with how he's recovering. I think we all anticipated that he would take a turn for the better, and he has,” Cash said Thursday afternoon before the Rays opened their final homestand of the regular season against the Tigers. “If you ask Wander, he says he's good to play tomorrow, but that's probably not going to happen. But we've got to be really pleased with where he's at in his rehab.”
Franco is already doing some light running, performing agility drills and hitting (off a tee and flips) in the batting cage. Cash said “there’s a chance” Franco will further ramp up his on-field activity on Friday, continuing the gradual build-up back into game action.
“I feel a lot better, thank God, and there isn't much that bothers me anymore,” Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro.
Franco felt something pull in his hamstring as he rounded second base and headed for third in the first inning of the Rays’ 10-4 loss to the Tigers in Detroit on Friday. He was removed from the game after reaching third safely, and imaging later revealed a low-grade strain to the muscle. Franco said running will be his biggest test, and that is the main focus of his current treatment plan.
Franco, who still owns the Majors’ longest active on-base streak with his historic 39-game run, is eligible to come off the 10-day IL on Tuesday, although that seems unlikely. Franco said he hoped to return next week, when the Rays host the Blue Jays and Marlins in their final home series of the season, but even that might be too soon to expect him back in Tampa Bay’s lineup.
While the Rays certainly want to get Franco back on the field and give him time to prepare for a potential postseason run, they also don’t want to push him too hard or too fast.
So for now, Franco will wait and watch and work his way back onto the field as soon as possible. That might be frustrating in the short term for Franco, who said he “can’t stand just sitting around watching everybody,” but it’s likely for the long-term benefit of him and the Rays.
“It's really hard,” Franco said, “but I still watch the game every night.”
Patiño set for Friday start
Rays right-hander Luis Patiño said he was on the mound at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, getting ready to throw his between-starts bullpen, when he learned that his outing against the Tigers was bumped up a day from Saturday to Friday night. He cut that session short, but he’s otherwise ready to go for his second consecutive matchup with Detroit.
“It may be one day earlier, but the routine, the mentality and the preparation is going to continue to be the same,” Patiño said through Navarro.
The Rays had considered a bullpen game for Friday night, with Patiño set for Saturday, but they put their heads together after Wednesday’s series finale in Toronto and made pitching plans for the next few days. Louis Head opened Thursday night for bulk-innings pitcher Dietrich Enns, then they bumped up Patiño to start on regular rest (his past four starts have come after extra rest) and slotted in lefty Ryan Yarbrough to pitch Saturday, either as a starter or after an opener, on four days’ rest.
That covers them through Sunday, when Shane McClanahan is scheduled to come off the 10-day IL and start the series finale against the Tigers.
After a pair of strong starts against the contending White Sox and Red Sox at the end of August, Patiño has allowed six runs in seven innings over his last two outings. He took a step forward in Detroit on Sunday, allowing only two runs in 4 1/3 innings, and it’s important that he continue in that direction as the postseason draws near.
“I think it's very important to be able to prepare and learn from these next few weeks,” he said. “We have a long way to go. We still have a few weeks, and I think we need to prepare accordingly so that we're ready not just for the end of the season, but for the postseason as well.”