The Rays are expected to place first baseman Ji-Man Choi on the 10-day injured list tomorrow, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports, as Choi is battling tightness in his left hamstring. A ready-made replacement is likely to come in the form of slugger Nelson Cruz, who was placed on the COVID-related injury list yesterday as a precautionary measure since Cruz was feeling ill. However, since Cruz has since tested negative for COVID-19, he should be activated prior to the Rays’ game on Tuesday against the Phillies.
Choi hit a double and then scored in the first inning of Tampa’s 9-0 victory over the White Sox yesterday, though he hurt his hamstring running the bases and had to be replaced prior to the top of the second. This is already the third IL stint of the year for Choi, whose recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery kept him from making his 2021 debut until May 16, and he also had a minimum 10-day IL trip in June due to a left groin strain.
Through it all, the 30-year-old has remained productive, hitting .250/.364/.435 with nine home runs over 236 plate appearances. This translates to a 128 wRC+ and a 129 OPS+, and Choi’s 46.6% hard-hit ball rate and 14.4% walk rate are also personal bests. Most of Choi’s playing time has come against right-handed pitching, and Choi has hit righties to the tune of an .879 OPS over 172 PA.
Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe are likely to assume first base duties while Choi is out, though Topkin notes that Cruz might be an answer in the very short term. The Rays won’t have the DH spot during their upcoming two-game set in Philadelphia, so the club could potentially use Cruz as a first baseman to keep his bat in the lineup. Cruz has never played first base at either the MLB or minor league level during his 21 professional seasons, and he hasn’t seen any work at any position since the 2018 campaign.