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Rays’ Kevan Smith finds odd looks for wearing a mask odd

Notebook: Catchers from the Port Charlotte group are competing for a job, ... Lefty Ji-Man Choi takes another right-handed turn at the plate.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Kevan Smith flips his bat after hitting a home run during practice at Tropicana Field on Thursday, July 9, 2020, in St. Petersburg.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Kevan Smith flips his bat after hitting a home run during practice at Tropicana Field on Thursday, July 9, 2020, in St. Petersburg. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jul. 11, 2020
Updated Jul. 12, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Kevan Smith, a nonroster catcher invited to the original spring training, is enjoying the opportunity to be back with the Rays and competing for a spot on the team.

But returning to Florida, and especially the Port Charlotte area, where he has been doing most of his workouts after spending the shutdown at home in Pittsburgh, has been a bit troubling.

Specifically regarding the handling of the coronavirus, given the spike in cases, and how people are dealing with it.

“Felt like you couldn’t even walk outside without a mask on (at home),” Smith, 32, said. “I feel like here you go out with a mask, we have guys getting called names and all the above. Just a totally different feel.

Related: Former Ray Tommy Pham not optimistic for MLB after his bout with coronavirus

“I heard a story, one of the (guys), I don’t if I can use this word, he was in a store shopping for food and I guess it was a resident called the player a pansy for wearing his mask.

“I went out briefly to just pick up some takeout food, and I swear I got like a dozen eyeballs on me, looking at me like I’m like the weirdo walking in with a mask. Little do they know what is at stake for my life and for my livelihood. It’s just very immature and just whatever you want to call it. It’s comical. It’s going on all over the world, but we’re seeing it firsthand here.”

Smith has had a busy couple of weeks. His wife, Jessica, delivered their second child, Remi Jean, on June 23, then Smith headed south to get back to work.

Though Smith and Chris Herrmann, another veteran with big-league time on a nonroster deal, were sent to Port Charlotte to do most of their initial work, they’ve made a couple of appearances at the Trop. And they had the chance to make a good impression as the Rays look at them and returnee Michael Perez for a backup to starter Mike Zunino — and depth for the 60-game season as the team likely will carry only two catchers.

Related: To win, Rays need honesty as much as talent and good health

“I don’t look at it that they’re helping us,” manager Kevin Cash said. “They’re helping themselves, and they’re competing for jobs and opportunities.”

Choi switching it up?

What last week was described as just fooling around got a little more serious Saturday as usual lefty-swinging Ji-Man Choi batted right-handed three times in a simulated game, ripping a double to right.

Could Choi, who tried switch-hitting briefly in 2015 at Triple A, hit righty in a game against a tough lefty?

Cash said doesn’t see it happening, but he didn’t rule it out.

“It was a simple conversation: ‘Is this something you want to explore?' Don’t really foresee that coming in any way,” Cash said. “I think where he’s at in his career from a confidence standpoint, he’s willing to mess around with it. He’s done it for two seasons now when he hits in the cage or takes BP. Got an opportunity in this setting to let him work through some timing, and of course he goes up there and maybe hits the hardest hit ball of the day.”

Choi said he did it to “help out the team” Saturday because all the pitchers were lefties, but he doesn’t know yet if he will do it in a real game: “Let’s see how it goes,” he said via interpreter Steve Nam.

Quote of the day

“I would say under, but you’re close.”

— Cash, when asked if they would carry 18 pitchers on the opening 30-man roster


Four lefty pitchers from the Port Charlotte group worked the game, with two innings by Josh Fleming (40 pitches), and one each by Sean Gilmartin (20), Ryan Sherriff (15) and D.J. Snelten (14). … Innings started with a man on second so the Rays could get work on baserunning and leads. … Cash said another group of players worked out outside the Trop, getting time on their feet in the heat, and pitchers might do so, too. … There are still four players who have not been seen on the field for workouts (pitchers Yonny Chirinos and Tyler Glasnow, infielder Jose Martinez, outfielder Randy Arozarena) and a fifth (outfielder Austin Meadows) who was there only for the July 3 first workout. The team won’t say who was present or missing, nor why.