Rays looking to step up with Wander on IL

Shortstop dealing with right quad strain, expected to return in about 2 weeks

June 1st, 2022

ARLINGTON -- When Wander Franco isn’t in the Rays’ lineup, there’s a change in dynamic, shortstop Taylor Walls said. Though it’s no secret that Tampa Bay’s offense has been struggling, both Walls and manager Kevin Cash can attest to the fact that it’s not all on Franco’s recurring injuries.

Franco was placed on the 10-day IL with a right quadriceps strain prior to the club’s 3-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field. The 21-year-old shortstop, who signed an 11-year, $182 million extension last offseason, has been dealing with several lower-half injuries throughout the 2022 season.

His right quad has been the most troubling, and after exiting Monday’s series opener against the Rangers with a strain in that same quad, the Rays decided to manage it with more than an off-day or DHing. No matter how much Franco wanted to keep going.

“There’s some soreness in there, but Wander’s a tough kid. I think he’d be the first to say that he wants to keep playing, he just didn’t know at what capacity or what level he could do that,” Cash said. “And that’s where I think us as an organization probably needed to step in and prevent him from hurting himself a little more.”

Franco suffered the strain in the top of the ninth inning on Monday as he was rounding first base trying to turn a single into a double. After the game, Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro that he’d been avoiding the IL because he was scared of it, and he felt that’s why he hadn’t been playing as well as he could be. Over his last 15 games, Franco is batting .170/.237/.245.

“Exactly what is happening right now [is what scared me about the IL],” Franco said. “Not being able to go out there and help my team out, going out and missing time, and not being able to be on the field with my teammates.”

Franco’s doctor’s visit on Tuesday afternoon revealed nothing serious, and he’s expected to return in about two weeks, Cash said.

“We want to get Wander right,” Cash said prior to Tuesday’s game. “I think it’s pretty obvious, he’s been playing through a lot as of late, hasn’t quite been himself.”

With Franco out of the lineup, that left a hole for Walls to fill as the Rays’ primary shortstop, with Vidal Bruján as a backup. Playing shortstop comes most naturally for Walls -- a position he’s played since he was three or four years old -- but he said he’ll still try to take some reps at second and third so he’ll be fresh at those positions when Franco returns.

“I love playing short, I think everybody knows that. So, I don’t have a problem with doing it,” Walls said. “It’s tough to have this conversation because I never want anybody on my team to get hurt. But, you know, I’ll just step in and do my part, and be the best player I can be.”

Walls compared the situation to that of second baseman Brandon Lowe, who was placed on the 10-day IL on May 16 with a lower back issue. As of May 17, he was expected to be out for at least a month. Lowe, who hit a team-leading five homers in his first 32 games, is one of the team’s best hitters and there is still no timetable for his return.

“When guys go down, guys [have got to] step up. Especially having been struggling here offensively as a team the past week or so,” Walls said. “I feel like now is a good time for guys to start stepping up; finding ways to win -- even if it’s a day where bats aren’t there, you know, we’ve just got to scrap out runs one way or another.”

After Tuesday’s loss, Walls agreed that it can’t happen soon enough.

“I wish it could’ve happened tonight, I hope it can happen tomorrow. Who knows?” Walls said. “That’s just how the game goes, you know. We could come out tomorrow and score 10 runs.”