ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Kevin Cash sat in the dugout Monday afternoon and proceeded to go through a lengthy list of injured players and their status.
The Rays manager rattled off the names of 13 players, most of which will not return at any point soon.
The biggest name on that list, of course, is Wander Franco. After returning from a quad injury that sidelined him for all but four games in June, the 21-year-old shortstop was back in the lineup for 13 games when he was removed during the first inning of Saturday’s game at Cincinnati. A broken hamate bone in his right hand will sideline the young star for five to eight weeks.
Kevin Kiermaier, who also exited Saturday’s game with a recurrence of a hip injury that refuses to go away, will see a specialist in Nashville after the all-star break.
“I think KK is going to be gone for some time,” said Cash.
Cash noted Mike Zunino has been receiving treatments to his neck in the hope it will alleviate the tingling sensation running down his left arm. He last played June 9 against visiting St. Louis.
Brandon Lowe (lower back) could be on the verge of returning. The second baseman had a bit of a setback when he was hit in the head with a pitch last Thursday while rehabbing at Triple-A Durham. He has since returned to the Bulls’ lineup – he went 2-for-4 Sunday — and is scheduled to play the next three games starting Tuesday night. Cash said Lowe’s status will then be evaluated with the next steps to be determined.
Another player who could be close to returning is reliever Pete Fairbanks, who has been out since spring training with a right lat strain. The righthander has made four rehab appearances in Durham this month with two more scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
The absence of so many players has resulted in plenty of opportunities for others to make a difference, even if they were not expected to be counted on for an extended period of time, if at all this season.
“You make the most of the roster that you have and, look, it presents really quality opportunities for some young players that, with good health and good fortune, they might not be getting this year,” said Cash, who had to remove Josh Fleming from Monday night’s 10-5 win over Boston after three innings of bulk relief due to right oblique tightness.
All told, the Rays have 15 players on the injured list and have used 48 players, including 29 pitchers, this season, which is only at the halfway point. Only nine players who were on the 28-man opening day roster have been available all season: Jason Adam, Randy Arozarenaa, Jalen Beeks, Corey Kluber, Shane McClanahan, Brooks Raley, Harold Ramirez, Taylor Walls and Matt Wisler.
Yandy’s bat: It is difficult to overstate the blistering stretch Yandy Diaz is enjoying. A second straight three-hit game in Monday night’s 10-5 win over the Red Sox was his third three-hit game of July and 10th multi-hit effort in his last 15 games (14 starts) during which he is hitting .500 (27-for-54) to raise his average from .257 to .307.
In 11 games this month, Diaz is hitting .513 (20-for-39) with a .574 OBP and a 1.292 OPS. He has not homered, but has eight doubles.
“He is on a really impressive run and we are some kind of appreciative of what he is doing for us,” said Cash. “He is as hot as I can recall, getting big hit after big hit.”
Bethancourt on board: Catcher and first baseman Christian Bethancourt arrived at the Trop on Monday and is slated to make his Rays debut Tuesday night. Cash said the 30-year-old will be behind the plate for Corey Kluber’s start.
Bethancourt was acquired from Oakland on Saturday for a pair of minor leaguers, pitcher Christian Fernandez and outfielder Cal Stevenson. In his first MLB action in five years, he was hitting .249 with four homers and 19 RBI in 56 games with the A’s. He had .683 OPS.
“I am happy to be with a team that is contending and needs my abilities on the field to help them win ballgame,” he said.
Bethancourt has taken quite route to get this point. Signed by the Braves as international free agent in 2008, he made his MLB debut with Atlanta in 2013. In 2017, two years after being acquired by the Padres, he transitioned to become a pitcher — 14.73 ERA in six games with San Diego and an 8.21 ERA in 34 minor league appearances — before returning behind the plate in 2018 while in the Brewers’ system.
After playing in Korea in 2019, Bethancourt did not play during virus-wrecked 2020. He spent last season with the Pirates’ Triple-A club in Indianapolis where he had an .807 OPS in 92 games.
“Give him a lot of credit for going through that and still find a way to have success this far down the road,” said Cash. “A pretty driven guy.”
Bethancourt is hitting .229 with 12 homers and 65 RBI in 217 MLB games.
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All-Star starter?: Shane McClanahan will make his final start before the all-star break Wednesday night against the Red Sox. The lefty, who is 9-3 and leads the majors in strikeouts (141) while topping the American League in ERA (1.73), WHIP (0.81) and batting average against (.178), will represent the Rays in next Tuesday’s all-star game at Dodger Stadium.
“Certainly, I am biased,” said Cash, when asked if McClanahan should start the mid-summer classic. “I hope he gets a chance to do that. Regardless of how that shakes out, I know Shane is very honored to represent the Rays. I said it to him in front of the group: I have not witnessed a pitcher have a stronger first half.”
Divisional homestand: A seven-game homestand featuring AL East rivals Boston and Baltimore continues Tuesday night when Corey Kluber (4-5, 3.62 ERA) takes the mound against Chris Sale in the second of four games against the Red Sox. Sale will be making his first appearance of 2022. The veteran lefty sustained a stress fracture in his right rib cage in spring training.