PORT CHARLOTTE — With all of the clubhouse TV screens and a good share of the Rays’ attention locked in on the Astros apology news conference Thursday morning, new Tampa Bay catcher Kevan Smith was happy to discuss his cameo role in the scandal.
As reports came out in November detailing the Astros’ scheme of using video monitors near the home dugout to steal signs and bang on a trash can to alert their hitters what pitch was coming, videos were posted providing examples.
One of the most widely viewed was from a September 2017 game against the White Sox. Ex-Ray Danny Farquhar was pitching, noticed the banging when he threw changeups to Evan Gattis and summoned for his catcher — who was Smith.
“We always were like, 'Man, they have something.’ When a guy’s not swinging at pitches that you know they should be swinging at, you start rolling your eyes, like, ‘What’s going on here?’" Smith said Thursday.
“After a couple innings … you start kind of putting things together. We heard the banging. You’re always listening for whistling or yelling, anything like that. That was a first for us to hear that. But after the at-bat before or something, we were super suspicious.
“So Danny was getting ready to throw the pitch, he heard it and he was like, ‘Time (out).’ He calls me out there, and he’s like, ‘Dude, do you hear that?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I hear it, but I don’t know what they’re getting. There’s nobody on base (to relay the signs, which is considered less egregious).’"
Smith was also confident he wasn’t revealing the signs to the Astros base coaches or dugout.
They agreed on the mound to go with no signs, pre-determining a sequence for the next four to five pitches, and ending up striking out Gattis — on a changeup, with no bang, further validating their theory even though they didn’t know the details.
“We were like, ‘All right,’" Smith said. “It was certainly frustrating."
Smith was on vacation in Montana without cell service when the scandal story broke and the video, now nearly 4 million views on YouTube, was posted.
“I got back (into cell range) and my phone is just exploding and I had no idea what was going on," he said. “I was like holy s---. I remembered that day vividly, and now it exploded."
Smith has come to appreciate his place in history.
“I told my wife years from now I’ll be 'That Guy from the Video’ doing a Netflix documentary — ‘What’d you do, what’d you hear, what’d you see.’" Smith said. “l’ll be that old guy with my gray beard giving an interview. It’ll be funny.”
Snell stepping up his game
Blake Snell is confident that if he avoids injuries he can pitch as well or even better than he did in his 2018 Cy Young season. But he is also taking steps to improve his performance. Snell hired a personal chef — Talon Thomas, who also works with Snell’s buddy NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. — to prepare healthy food and educate him about smart choices. And Snell said he does not “stay up playing video games all night like I used to." Snell said he’s lost 13 pounds during a month of having Thomas live with him, has more energy, sleeps better and feels stronger.
All 33 pitchers and seven catchers were present Thursday, along with 13 of the 25 position players, with infielder Daniel Robertson the latest arrival. … Free-agent addition Yoshi Tsutsugo was due to arrive in Tampa on Thursday from Japan and expected in camp Friday, which manager Kevin Cash said will be good so he can start settling in after a hectic offseason. … Tyler Glasnow experimented with his new splitter during a bullpen session, pleased with how it looked but saying he needs to face hitters and use it in spring games before deciding whether to keep it for the regular season. … Cash didn’t see all the pitchers, but said lefties Colin Poche and USF product Shane McClanahan impressed. “(McClanahan has) got a chance to be special,” Cash said. … The Rays were No. 1 in Baseball America’s annual ranking of farm system talent. … Cash also noted that pitcher Yonny Chirinos looked “awesome” in losing 15 pounds and working out throughout the offseason.