Wander Franco’s future as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays remained unclear as the 22-year-old shortstop was placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball.
What is clear is the manner in which the Rays, two games behind Baltimore in the American League East at the conclusion of play Tuesday, continue to go about their business while pursuing a division title.
“Coming out of the first game in San Francisco, when there was enough talk, I really applaud this group for the way they have gone about their business, the way they have focused,” said manager Kevin Cash on Tuesday afternoon, referring to an August 14 game against the Giants at the start of a six-game trip and on the day Franco was placed on the restricted list. “We won two big series (against the Giants and Angels) on the West Coast. That’s not an easy thing to do. Just very encouraged the way they continue to go about it and would expect no different.”
Said catcher Christian Bethancourt, “We’re not talking about (Franco’s situation). Nobody is. We have to show up every day. We have to play and win ballgames.”
Franco was placed on the restricted list after social media posts suggested he had an inappropriate relationship with a minor. The posts triggered investigations by MLB and officials in the Dominican Republic.
The move from the restricted list to administrative leave means Franco is under MLB control as the investigation continues. It is a move made with the players union’s blessing and is part of a joint MLB/MLBPA domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy adopted in 2015.
Cash had reason to praise the team’s effort in Franco’s absence. Through Tuesday evening, the Rays have scored at least six runs in eight of their last 10 games and crossed the plate 61 times while going 5-2 in their last seven. The Rays hit 11 homers in those seven games, by 10 different players.
Among the contributors was the young man who is now playing short. Twenty-two-year-old Osleivis Basabe made his MLB debut August 13 and is 10-for-33 (.286) with four extra-base hits and eight RBI in eight games. He hit his first MLB homer, a grand slam, in the eighth inning of the Rays’ 12-4 win over the Rockies on Tuesday.
“We’re asking a lot of him and I think he has handled it really well,” said Cash, of the player who was Tampa Bay’s No. 6 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. “He’s had a lot of good at-bats. He is very competitive (at the plate), he can beat you to all fields. The power is something we have not seen quite yet, but he showed it off tonight. I feel like he is improving every day. He has been working hard.”
While Yandy Diaz was leading the AL in batting (.328) through Tuesday and Isaac Paredes has a team-high 78 RBI, Cash feels that Randy Arozarena is key to the Rays’ offense. Heading into the second game of last Saturday’s doubleheader at Anaheim, the outfielder had one homer and seven RBI in his previous 26 games. He has a homer and four RBI in the last two games while scoring five runs.
“We need to get him going,” said Cash. “We know how special he is to our lineup, how much he means to our lineup.”
It is a lineup that was torrid in the season’s first six weeks before cooling off and eventually going cold in July when the Rays hit .216 with .673 OPS. Thanks in large part to what has taken place the past week or so, the Rays are hitting .293 with an .818 OPS though their first 18 games in August.
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