The biggest question mark for the Tampa Bay Rays entering spring training was their middle infield situation. Asdrubal Cabrera was going to man either shortstop or second base, but which position would it be and who would be his double play partner? Even through the Rays’ first 11 spring games, we still had no answers.
The Rays’ 12th contest, however, just might go down as the game where that began to change. Nick Franklin started the spring with a leg up on Tim Beckham, and in leading the Rays over the New York Mets on Sunday, he finally started to demonstrate why that was the case.
Franklin, batting second and playing shortstop for the Rays in the game, followed up David DeJesus‘ game-opening double with a line drive single that pushed him to third. DeJesus didn’t score until two batters later, when Evan Longoria hit a sac fly, but Franklin didn’t need an RBI in the inning to create a run. With two outs, Franklin swiped second base and quickly scored on James Loney‘s single.
The game couldn’t get through the top of the second inning before Franklin made his presence felt again. Kirk Nieuwenhuis attempted to score from second base on Matt den Dekker‘s deep fly ball to center, but Franklin received Steven Souza‘s throw and released his own in one motion as he gunned down Nieuwenhuis at the plate. (Well, at least that is what Rays Radio and tweets from Marc Topkin and others said. The MLB.com boxscore said that Elmore made the throw.)
It was also Nieuwenhuis who fielded Franklin’s RBI single in the bottom of the frame. Franklin later scored again on John Jaso‘s RBI double. Then, to top his game off, Franklin had one more excellent defensive play left in him. Wilmer Flores made a wide turn around first base as Souza threw towards third base to try to catch Daniel Murphy, but Franklin cut off the throw and showed another lightning-fast release as he caught Flores attempting to go back to first.
Franklin didn’t have a perfect day. Murphy was only on first base because Franklin was unable to catch a James Loney throw cleanly enough to turn a double play. Loney would say that he should have made a better throw or waited an extra moment for Franklin to be closer to the second base bag, but Franklin had plenty of time and still should have been able to execute the return throw. Franklin also flew out in his third at-bat.
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Despite his imperfections, though, Franklin had a strong game and certainly a step in the right direction. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .304 this spring, and while he’s made a few too many misplays, he has also delivered some web gems. It’s not too late for Tim Beckham, who went 0 for 2 after replacing Franklin in the game, to make a move and beat him out for a spot. Even so, this is the type of game that reminds us why the Rays think so highly of Franklin and why he is currently set to be a regular for them this season.
Aside from Franklin, other stars among the Rays’ position players included Evan Longoria, Allan Dykstra, and Juan Francisco. Longoria went 2 for 2 with 2 RBI while Dykstra and Francisco drilled back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning. It was nice to see Dykstra and Francisco showing off the power we had heard much about, but hadn’t yet seen.
On the mound, meanwhile, Matt Andriese started the game and went 3 innings allowing no runs on 4 hits, striking out 1 and walking 1. He didn’t look great–he allowed too much hard contact and needed plenty of help from his defense–but there is still something to be said about three scoreless frames.
Burch Smith followed by allowing two runs in the fourth inning, but he finished his outing by facing the minimum six batters in his final two frames. He has looked better than Andriese overall this spring and may be ahead of him on the depth chart if the Rays need a spot-start or two in April.
Jim Miller then worked around a pair of baserunners to keep the Mets off the board in his first Rays outing before Jordan Norberto and Kirby Yates allowed a run each in their frames. Yates struck out 2 batters but made a mistake on a Johnny Monell solo homer.
In any event, it was great to see Nick Franklin and others playing well as the Rays improved to 5-6-1 this spring training. Monday will mark the Rays’ first day off since exhibition games began.