The Rays are set to welcome back a pair of infielders in the coming days. Rays manager Kevin Cash told Juan Toribio of MLB.com that third baseman Matt Duffy is poised to come off the injured list in next week’s series against Boston, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Not far behind, it seems, is utilityman Daniel Robertson, who will kick off a minor-league rehab assignment in the High-A Florida State League tomorrow, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
This will mark Duffy’s season debut, as he’s been sidelined by a hamstring strain from the outset. The 28-year-old was Tampa’s preferred option at the hot corner in 2018. Despite hitting only four home runs and slugging .366, Duffy was worth a solid-average 2.4 fWAR on the strength of a high-contact approach and plus metrics at the hot corner (at least in the eyes of UZR). Over four MLB seasons, Duffy sports a career .285/.337/.385 slash (102 wRC+) with above-average defense at third base.
Robertson, who has been out since June 22 with right knee inflammation, was even better than Duffy in 2018, although his offensive output has cratered this season. As a part-time player last year, the former A’s prospect slashed .262/.382/.415 while logging time at all three infield positions. His batted ball metrics never quite backed up that level of production, but the Rays likely still anticipated at least average output at the plate from the 25 year-old moving forward.
Instead, his power has cratered, partially because his already-high ground ball rate has jumped six points from last season. The result: a .202/.311/.281 slash, translating to a 68 wRC+. Nevertheless, there’s room for some optimism about a return to form. Robertson’s elite plate discipline seems to be intact, he’s actually making more contact than last season despite a curious uptick in strikeouts, and his average exit velocity, per Statcast, hasn’t changed.
Things are a little less fortunate for AL Rookie of the Year candidate Brandon Lowe. Topkin tweets that Lowe’s bruised right shin, sustained when he fouled a ball off his leg, continues to impede his lateral quickness on fielding drills, meaning “it will still be awhile before he’s back,” as Topkin puts it. This is the second time in a week we’ve heard frustration with the 25-year-old’s recovery process. The Rays, who have lost five straight and now sit two games back in the AL Wild Card race, could certainly use Lowe in the lineup, as the second baseman sports a strong .276/.339/.523 slash.
In the interim, Lowe’s injury likely means more playing time for Duffy, who seems to have been squeezed out at third base by the club’s offseason acquisition of Yandy Diaz, and hot-hitting rookie Michael Brousseau. Joey Wendle has continued to log action at the keystone in Lowe’s absence, as well, but he’s come nowhere close to repeating his solid 2018 production and could see his playing time dwindle as the club’s infield mix gets increasingly crowded.