ST. PETERSBURG — For much of the two-plus months since spring training was shut down, Rays coaches have been trying to find a balance in ways to keep their players fit and active.
Now with workouts resuming Monday at the Trop, albeit on a limited basis, in anticipation of a second “spring training” in June and a season starting in July, there will be an effort to make sure they don’t try to do too much.
“That’s something we’ve really got to be mindful of,’’ pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “Let’s not do too much too soon and then have to slow down before we ramp back up again. We want this to be kind of a steady climb.’’
The Rays, understandably, will be cautious in the handling of their prized pitchers, who have been off almost as long as they would between the usual end of a season and the start of precamp workouts. Starting workouts Monday will give them roughly six weeks, like a standard spring, until a potential early July opener, assuming an agreement between players and owners to start the season as proposed.
Though Snyder has seen video of many of his pitchers working out to some degree, he said only one-third have been throwing off a mound, which also will require an adjustment after months of playing catch on flat ground. Among those who haven’t been throwing off a mound are Blake Snell and Brendan McKay. Both had setbacks during spring with slight injuries, and Snyder said though he has not seen video of either he expects them to ready to go with "zero limitations.''
“There’s been a level of consistency throughout all these guys,’’ Snyder said. “It’s going to come down to gauging where each of them are before they really hit the gas pedal. (This) week, with the guys that are local, that are on the 40-man roster, being able to put some eyes on them, feel them out in person in terms of where they are, is going to give us a lot better gauge as far as how quickly we get that accelerated.’’
The position players are on different schedule that actually could work well with an abbreviated second spring. Many typically only need three weeks or so to get ready, but they’re in camp for six weeks so the pitchers can get enough work.
After the shutdown, hitting coach Chad Mottola said he sensed the players cycled through stages, initially staying active thinking it would be only a short delay, then getting “down in the dumps about the baseball,” and now being excited about the chance to start playing.
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“This kind of has lit a fire under everybody in a healthy way,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to talking them out of doing some stuff. They all have a good grasp.’’
Mottola said he was impressed during the first spring training at the maturity, knowledge and way the hitters worked smartly rather than overly much. He expects the same messaging to continue to work.
“The thing that’s been tough is, this is our year,’’ he said. “If it was two years ago, I don’t know if everybody would have been feeling the same. But everyone wants to get back on the field for that reason.’’
Though other clubs have been allowing players to take batting practice and throw bullpen sessions at team facilities, the Rays are taking a cautious approach.
Initially, players, only will be limited during the three-day-a-week sessions to playing catch, running and doing weight work and exercises on the field, two to four players at a time.
There will be strict protocols for entry/exit, hand-washing and social distancing. Equipment won’t be shared; pitchers, for example, will get a bag of baseballs, which will be cleaned after the session.
“There’s a lot more downside to moving too fast than too slow,’’ general manager Erik Neander said. “Our priority remains the health and safety of our players, staff and their families. We will learn a lot through this initial, conservative step, and that will serve us well as we continue to ramp up.’’
Similarly, the Rays are waiting to suggest players who went to their off-season homes should return for the workouts, including Ji-Man Choi from Korea and Yoshi Tsutsugo from Japan.
Three elbow surgeries in 27 months and no game action since September 2017 is trying physically and mentally, but Brent Honeywell, as you would expect, says he will be fine. His bosses certainly back him. “More than anything, you feel for him, just knowing how much this game means to him,’’ Neander said. “But that love for the game, along with the belief he has in himself, is why he’s going to be back on the mound soon enough.’’ ... Former Ray Chris Archer tweeted his support for the 25-year-old right-hander: “He’s been through a lot but my boy is gonna be a beast with his bionic arm.’’ ... Snyder, who had a similar nerve decompression procedure during his playing days, said Honeywell “has kept his spirits about as high as anybody could expect.” ... Honeywell is on the 40-man roster but optioned to the minors. The potential to need all roster spots in an abbreviated season could lead the Rays to call him up for the purpose of putting him on the 60-day injured list, if there still is such a thing, to create an extra slot, but that also would start his service time clock.
The Rays aren’t only reopening the Trop for workouts, but the team store is also back in business. Orders are being taken by phone at (727) 342-5731 or email at email@example.com, with contactless curbside pickup Tuesday-Thursday or shipping (free in Florida). The new Nike on-field collection is available. Team offices will remain closed. … Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier was the eighth overall pick (by Houston) in Keith Law’s redo of the 2010 draft for The Athletic, an impressive acknowledgement of Kiermaier’s success after being taken 941st overall in Round 31. … Following ESPN’s 7 p.m. Tuesday airing of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, former Cubs (and Rays) manager Joe Maddon and broadcaster Bob Costas will discuss Chicago’s historic win at 11 p.m. in a free session on cameo.com/Joe, with donations to Maddon’s Respect 90 Foundation suggested. … The 2012 Zim Bear giveaway was the Rays’ entry on mlb.com’s list of teams weirdest promotions. … Kiermaier and Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger had the fastest average home to first time last year, 3.97 seconds (minimum 150 competitive runs), per league data. … Brandon Lowe ranked eighth on Jim Bowden’s list for The Athletic of top second baseman in the majors; no Rays made Bowden’s top 10 at shortstop, first or third base.