1 of 5 | Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) hasn't played since Aug. 12 as MLB and Dominican Republic authorities investigate him on allegations that he had inappropriate relationships with minors. File Photo by Steven J. Nesius/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Tampa Bay Rays players say they aren't worried about when All-Star Wander Franco can return from an MLB-mandated hiatus, refusing to let what one describes as a "weird situation" drain energy amid a torrid run to the playoffs.
That return is no certainty for the 22-year-old shortstop, amid investigations by MLB and Dominican Republic authorities after allegations spread that he had inappropriate relationships with underage girls.
"We don't know anything," second baseman Brandon Lowe told UPI before the Rays beat the Marlins 11-2 on Tuesday in Miami.
"We haven't heard any updates. We know nothing." Lowe said. "What are you going to take for truth? What someone says on Twitter versus what's actually happening? It's a very weird situation that none of us have been in before."
MLB placed Franco on administrative leave Aug. 22. When or whether the Bani, Dominican Republic, native, will return is uncertain. He has denied the allegations.
Some players in the Rays clubhouse refused to comment or gave elusive responses when asked if they remain in contact or have been asked to stop communications with the embattled shortstop.
The 2023 All-Star hit .281 with 17 home runs, 30 steals and 58 RBIs through his first 112 games. He was on pace to hit more than 20 homers and steal more than 40 bases.
But his loss interestingly, has not been felt on the playing field or the standings.
The Rays, who sit in second place in the American League East, were 11-13 in a 24-game stretch before removing Franco from the lineup Aug. 13.
They are 10-4 since, including wins in eight of their last 10 games. They have a three-game winning streak and end their series with the Miami Marlins on Wednesday evening.
The Rays' +183 run differential, 194 home runs and 138 stolen bases are best in the American League. They've allowed the second-fewest hits and runs in the league, and MLB batters are hitting a league-worst .232 against Rays pitchers.
Tampa Bay's' 93 RBIs since Franco left the lineup are tied for the most in baseball over any team's last 14 games. Their .306 average and 155 hits over that span rank second and third in MLB.
Clearly, whatever impact Franco's departure, either temporary or permanent, does not weigh heavily on his teammates.
"Why worry about it? Why let energy get drained into an area that I can't control?" Lowe said in the clubhouse at loanDepot park.
"We know the guys we have here. Obviously, we hope that everything works out for the best, but I can't go out and change anything that's going to happen. I can't make him come back. I can't make it all go away. I can't focus on that. We need to focus on what we can do between the lines."
Tampa Bay Rays infielder Wander Franco, who signed a $182 million contract extension in 2021, is on administrative leave and has no set timetable to resume his MLB career. File Photo by Steve Nesius/UPI
Rays players said strong leadership, especially from manager Kevin Cash, infielder Yandy Diaz and pitchers Zach Eflin and Jake Diekman helped bolster their record (81-52), despite losing their young star.
Eflin said the leaders stress bonding, like team dinners or hanging out in hotel rooms during road trips.
"When it's such a big guy like Wander, everybody has to rally around each other," Eflin said. "We've been doing it all year with the starters that we've lost. To go on a deep run in October, everybody's got to be on the same page. It's really important to stress that."
Rays outfielder Luke Raley said Cash's honesty and simplistic strategy have been part of that leadership. And the rest of the team has a positive attitude.
"Whoever is here is here," Raley said. "We trust the 26 guys there in the clubhouse, and we're gonna back one another and do the little things we have to do to win games."
The emergence of Osleivis Basabe, who was called up to replace Franco at the start of his absence, also helps the Rays. The team's No. 6 prospect is hitting .279 (12 for 43), including his first home run (a grand slam) in 13 games since his Aug. 13 debut.
"The credit does need to go to Osabe because he's filled in in a tight spot and in a weird situation that a lot of guys don't want for their their debut and their call up," Lowe said. "He's handled it seamlessly."
Outfielder Josh Lowe, who joined the Rays in 2016 and was promoted to the big leagues in 2021, said the Franco's absence has allowed the franchise to showcase its "deep farm system."
"It's pretty cool to see the younger guys come up and filling roles that they probably didn't expect to have out there and be successful," Lowe said.
Cash said veteran players and team leadership's willingness to play alongside the young players is key in the hot streak.
"We've got a lot of good teammates out there," Cash said. "They are doing things to kind of embrace the younger guys, whether it's Basabe or [outfielder] Vidal Brujan or like a guy like Aaron Civale, who just came over [in a trade]. I think, to a man, they've been really supportive of each other."
The second-place Rays are 2 1/2 games behind the Orioles (82-49) in the American League East. They have a 5 1/2-game lead in the wild card standings that are used to determine playoff participation.
"We're winning series, which is the most important thing," Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena said. "We want to play in October, so we just keep on going with the same victories. Everyone's focused and we just gotta keep working hard."
The media office for the attorney general of the Dominican Republic, which confirmed its investigation into Franco earlier this month, did not respond when asked for an update on its status.