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Rays told players to prioritize health over workouts

As players scattered, manager Kevin Cash said they were told missing a week or two of workouts was okay.

ST. PETERSBURG — At some point, whenever that is, the Rays will get back to being concerned about baseball.

But in these initial days of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Rays told their players to be more concerned with their health and safety.

“We’ve asked the guys to be very responsible with the understanding that missing out on a week of workouts is really not that big of a deal,” manager Kevin Cash said Friday on a conference call. “Missing two weeks is not a big deal. Respect that they worked hard and they want to maintain that, but the overall safety and health is priority.”

The challenge of staying in shape is trickier for pitchers. They start on a program in January to build up their arms to be ready for a season that was to start next week, but is now delayed until at least late May — and possibly well beyond.

Some around the game have said they plan to stay on a normal throwing regimen, others have talked about a maintenance program and building back up when there is a set target date.

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“It’s up to the individual pitcher to do what he thinks, they think is best,” Cash said. "We’re not asking anybody to completely shut down, but we’re certainly not asking guys to maintain throwing bullpen (sessions). ... Once everything kind of sped up (last week) and we were getting new information or new directions (from Major League Baseball), it seemed like every other day or every day something added would come out, we kind of just said we’re going to prioritize doing everything we can to keep the players and the staff healthy.

“And then from that point we’ll re-visit, whenever that time comes, on how they get their arms back in shape. Some of them are going to throw, some of ‘em aren’t.”

Cash said Rays players have scattered to a degree. Some are still in the Port Charlotte area since they had leases through the end of the month; some moved to homes they have in St. Petersburg-Tampa; some went to offseason homes.

He said the team is fine with whatever they chose, including first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that he was planning to head home to South Korea because he felt he could prepare better there for the season.

Cash said on the call that Yoshi Tsutsugo’s intention was to return to Japan, but the team later clarified that Tsutsugo, who signed with the Rays in December after playing 10 years in his native country, was staying in St. Petersburg for now.

(In further clarification from Tsutsugo’s representatives: His current intentions are to stay in St. Pete. He still may decide to go back to Japan since conditions are improving there (plus he has a wife and baby there), but with current travel risks he is staying put for now.)

“We basically said, ‘You guys do whatever you feel is best and we would support that,'" Cash said. "These guys have families that they want to go support and help. ... If anybody said, ‘Hey, I’m out of here,’ the organization is completely in support of that.”

Cash also said he has not heard any dates on a resumption of play or how much time teams will get to ramp up through a second “spring” training; that no players are working out at the Port Charlotte facility; that “it’s really impressive” to see some of the things being down to help people throughout the industry, such as paying expense money to minor-leaguers.

Also, that he hasn’t been spending much time thinking about what he normally would within a week of opening day, such as pitching plans and lineups.

“It’s tough to process all the uncertainty,” Cash said. “Nobody to blame, so you’ll find yourself just sitting there thinking what ifs. ‘What if this? What if that? Are we playing? When?’ So many things. Personally, I try to limit that because I think it snowballs and then your mind just keeps going and you really don’t know what’s going to take place. Or I don’t.”

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