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Rays get back to work, though absence of three sparks speculation

Rays notebook: A reality of baseball in 2020 is that missing players raise questions about COVID-19.

ST. PETERSBURG — Thirty-two of the players on the Rays’ major-league camp roster were listed to work out during Friday’s first session of Spring 2.0 training at Tropicana Field.

Two others — nonroster catchers Chris Herrmann and Kevan Smith — were shifted to Port Charlotte, where the remaining 23 players in the Rays’ pool are based, to better distribute the workload, the team said.

That left three players — infielder Jose Martinez and pitchers Yonny Chirinos and Chaz Roe — officially unaccounted for on Friday and thus, in baseball’s new order, subject to speculation that their absence might be related to a positive COVID-19 test.

Related: Rays' Blake Snell delivers something of an apology for rant

“There were a variety of reasons as to why we were not at 100 percent attendance,” manager Kevin Cash said.

And that was about all he said.

Major League Baseball has told teams not to comment on coronavirus-related issues due to privacy concerns unless the player gives permission, thus managers and team executives are being cautious in saying much about any absences.

So what do we actually know about why Chirinos, Martinez and Roe weren’t there? Not much.

A travel delay wasn’t the issue, as Chirinos and Martinez were among the dozen-plus players working out at the Trop over the past six weeks. All others, such as Roe, arrived by Wednesday’s report day to undergo the intake testing — saliva for COVID-19 and blood for antibodies — required before they can join the group.

Rays Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations/General Manager Erik Neander, left, talks with outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Among possibilities for their absence — besides a positive COVID-19 test that requires isolation — are a delay in getting the results from their tests, showing coronavirus symptoms, or being in known contact with someone who has tested positive for symptoms. (MLB said Friday that 31 players and seven staffers spread across 19 teams tested positive.)

Or they could be otherwise sick, injured or dealing with a personal or family matter. (Martinez, for what it’s worth, is a regular on social media but hasn’t posted in several days.)

“Given all of the protocols, guidelines that we’re trying to follow, we’re not going to get into specifics,” Cash said.

Also of note, there were players on the workout sheets distributed to media who were never seen on the main field. Some could have been limited to conditioning work, which might be outdoors, or using the new large batting cage with pitching mounds underneath the stands.

Rays manager Kevin Cash throws pitches as players take swings in the batting cage. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Morton still waiting to see on 2021

Right-hander Charlie Morton said in February that a decision on whether to pitch in 2021, when the Rays hold a $15 million option if he is healthy this season, would depend on how he felt and how he did this year. Also, what’s best for his family, as he has a wife and four kids, ages 7 and under.

Morton, who turns 37 in November, said Friday that he hasn’t made any decision — that “circumstances,” apparently including the impact of the coronavirus on this season, would be the determining factor.

“Part of me doesn’t really want to end my career this way, if I could help it,” he said. “I really don’t want to go out because of this. I’d like to think I’ve been staying in good shape, I’ve been throwing, staying ready, doing preparation to help contribute. I don’t know. When you draw it out in your head, the idea of a shortened season amidst a pandemic isn’t the way you really imagine it.”

Quote of the day

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell (4), on left, bumps fists with pitcher Anthony Banda on the field during a work out at Rays Summer Camp as baseball officially returns at Tropicana Field on Friday, July 3, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“I’m pretty sure we’ll come up with some creative handshakes and stuff.”

— Blake Snell, Rays pitcher, on dealing with the distancing protocols


Given players had assorted and limited access to gyms and baseball facilities during the 3½-month shutdown, manager Kevin Cash was pleased overall with how the team looked: “Great to see the guys. You can tell most of the guys had been doing something to keep their bodies in shape.” … Under a significantly different schedule than usual, players worked out in four groups of eight, with less than an hour on the field, the whole session running from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. … One benefit of holding Spring 2.0 at the Trop is the added time for new outfielders Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe and Yoshi Tsutsugo to get used to the roof, lights and turf. … Players will work out from 9-1 again on Saturday.