Franco reports to Triple-A, nears Rays return

Baz set to make second start; club's longtime staffer to step down

September 22nd, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rookie phenom Wander Franco is nearly ready to rejoin the Rays lineup.

Franco, Tampa Bay’s switch-hitting shortstop, reported to Triple-A Durham on Tuesday to begin his Minor League rehab assignment and took part in an afternoon workout on the field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Manager Kevin Cash said Franco had five at-bats in live batting practice and fielded ground balls at shortstop during Durham’s off-day.

Franco is scheduled to play five or six innings on Wednesday night, when Durham begins the Triple-A Final Stretch with a five-game homestand against the Gwinnett Stripers, then play another seven or eight innings on Thursday. If those games go well, Franco is expected to rejoin the Rays on Friday before their series opener against the Marlins at Tropicana Field.

“Assuming he feels good, anticipate him coming back,” Cash said.

Franco has been sidelined since he sustained a low-grade right hamstring strain on Sept. 10 in Detroit. He recovered quickly after that, advancing to full workouts at Tropicana Field only nine days after the injury. The 20-year-old former top prospect will return with a 39-game on-base streak intact, the longest active streak in the Majors and the second-longest in AL/NL history by a player age 20 or younger behind only Frank Robinson’s 43-game streak in 1956.

Baz to make another start
With two off-days in the next week, the Rays are still deciding how to line up their rotation for the rest of the season. But Cash made it clear Tuesday afternoon that rookie Shane Baz, who impressed in his Major League debut on Monday night, will get another start.

That came as good news to Baz, who was still reflecting on everything that transpired the previous night. He said he received “probably a few hundred” text messages, including a bunch from Team USA teammates like Scott Kazmir and Todd Frazier. He got to keep the baseballs he threw for his first pitch and first strikeout. And he got to enjoy a moment on the field postgame with his family and friends.

“They were like, ‘This is so cool.’ I think that might be the first big league stadium they've got to kind of walk around on the field and stuff,” Baz said. “So they were like, ‘This looks even crazier from the mound.’ They were really, really happy.”

So was Baz, who said the excitement from his debut kept him “just staring at the ceiling for a while” by the time he finally got to bed Monday night. Now, the rookie right-hander can prepare for his next outing and a potential spot on Tampa Bay’s postseason pitching staff, possibly following in the footsteps of David Price in 2008.

Coincidentally enough, Baz could have taken the mound Monday wearing Price’s No. 14. Baz said the Rays presented him with a few jersey options: Nos. 0, 1, 11 and 14, the last of which was worn by Price during his tenure with the Rays from 2008-14. He ultimately chose No. 11, but laughed when he said 14 “could have been good luck.”

“I don't really care about the number at all a whole lot,” Baz said. “I just wanted the jersey.”

Director of pitching development stepping down
Dewey Robinson, the Rays’ director of pitching development for the last 12 years, has decided to step down from his position at the end of the season. A highly respected and significant figure within an organization known for developing young pitching, Robinson has spent 41 seasons in professional baseball.

“Dewey has been an integral part of the Rays pitching development, and countless pitchers have climbed through the organization under his watch,” the club said in a statement. “The Rays congratulate Dewey on 41 seasons in professional baseball and thank him for the 12 seasons he spent with the Rays.”

Cash also went out of his way to highlight Robinson’s contributions to the organization before Tuesday’s game and congratulated him on his long career in baseball.

“When you think Tampa Bay Rays, you think pitching,” Cash said. “When you think pitching, you think Dewey Robinson.”