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

Rays Tales: How they're feeling, where they've been and what they can handle on the field are all key questions to answer.
Charlie Morton wears a mask during a voluntary workout at Tropicana Field on June 5.
Charlie Morton wears a mask during a voluntary workout at Tropicana Field on June 5. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]
Published Jul. 11, 2020
Updated Jul. 11, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — The question gets brought up before every season, but given the unusual circumstances, it seems more relevant this year:

Is it more important for a team to be healthy or talented?

Between the risk of coronavirus infections and injuries due to the abbreviated training camp and compressed schedule, a pretty good case can be made for health mattering more.

Related: How Rays are trying to stick together while being apart

Here’s something else that’s going to be important: Honesty. Specifically, from the players.

In sharing information about potential virus symptoms, in keeping their word on following protocols and not exposing themselves to high-risk situations, in being honest with coaches about how their body feels and what is a reasonable workload.

The situation presents itself as soon as they wake up, with a check for the 100.4 fever that indicates trouble.

Players are required to take their temperatures twice each morning and, per the MLB manual, “before engaging in any activities that might compromise the accuracy of measurements, such as eating, drinking, exercising, showering, or ingesting fever-reducing medications.”

Players then enter their temperature into an MLB app and answer other questions about symptoms and possible exposure.

For the sake of his teammates, and extended families, players are expected to be honest. But for the sake of a desire to play rather than be isolated and sidelined for weeks, could a player be tempted to be less so? (There is another temperature check and more questions at the stadium, but also time to pop Tylenol or Advil and crank the AC.)

The onus is similarly on the players to take as many precautions as they can in limiting exposure, especially to people outside the team who may not be as careful or have less to risk.

Since baseball isn’t doing a “bubble” system like hockey, basketball and soccer, there are some freedoms. Even players who have said they go only to the field when they leave home are making a few seemingly reasonable stops — picking up take-out food, grabbing a coffee, running into Publix, getting gas. Even if they’re not, their significant other may be, so the chance for exposure, then spread at the stadium, is real.

There’s also the baseball side, too.

Players, especially pitchers, have never done this before — go through an offseason, prep for spring training, shut down after a month, do limited work in less than ideal conditions for 3 ½ months, then hurry up to get ready in three weeks for a season while operating under stringent rules and regulations that can significantly alter routines.

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Some players are going to want to do more, playing the macho card, and push too hard, especially in a 60-game season, which is a concern. Others will be too cautious, and look to shut down at the slightest concern, which can also be a problem.

Safe ground is probably in the middle, as players need to be straight about how they feel with their coaches, who are already going to be juggling pitching schedules and lineups based on availability due to COVID-19 issues.

Related: Why it's hard for Rays to make any decisions right now

Veteran pitcher Charlie Morton said players have to be open on and off the field.

“I’m going to be honest how I feel,” he said. “There’s an onus on me to obviously give everything I have, but also to be as transparent as possible in an effort to stay healthy. Because we’re not just dealing with what might be a routine injury. Say you miss a start for whatever random thing that happens to you as you’re pitching.

“But also if you get sick, if you get COVID-19, you’re going to miss time. You’re going to miss a substantial amount of time. And not only that, but you have to test negative multiple times. So the challenge then becomes, the duration of that and trying to avoid that. The methodology of prevention of injury and also of getting sick, so it’s a balancing act, right? ... There are multiples challenges here of staying on the field and staying healthy.”

And being honest about it.

Survey says …

The Rays sent ticket buyers a survey asking how likely they’d be to attend if games were opened to fans and what virus-related conditions would make them feel more comfortable (masks, decline in area cases, vaccine, distancing, mobile-only food ordering). …. Plans to do so likely are off until at least late August due to the recent spike in Tampa Bay-area cases, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said, with the potential to accommodate around 5,000 to 7,000 fans. … Friday was the deadline for fans to get either refunds on 2020 tickets or a credit toward future games (in 2020 or 2021), plus a 25 percent bonus for concessions and merchandise.

Schedule rumblings

An analysis shows the Rays with a slightly easier task based on strength of schedule in the 60-game AL/NL East-only format than the original, but trading games vs. the NL Central Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates and Reds for the Braves, Nationals, Mets, Phillies (and two extra against the Marlins) doesn’t seem like it. … How much homefield advantage there is remains to be seen, but the Rays got a bad draw in playing six of their 10 games vs. the Yankees on the road (and seven of 10 vs. the Orioles). In a normal season, such as 2021, the split is 10-9 at most. … If the final three-plus weeks matter (which seems likely in a nine-week season), the Rays play 14 of their final 18 games vs. the Nationals, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies. The Yankees play 20 of their last 23 vs. the Orioles, Blue Jays and Marlins.

Rays rumblings

Fox Sports Sun folks are waiting to see what Rays games get picked for national/YouTube TV before setting their schedule, but it would seem likely they’d show as many of the 60 games — all on Eastern time — as they can. … Rays execs are discussing selling fans the chance to have cardboard cutout photos of themselves in the seats, as other teams are. … ESPN’s David Schoenfield joined colleague Buster Olney in picking a favorite, writing: “The Tampa Bay Rays are going to win the 2020 World Series.” … The 2019 AL wild card banner will be hung prior to the July 24 opener, since there won’t be any fans to see a ceremony. … With the Blue Jays opting to stop in Boston for two games on their way back to Florida for the July 24 opener, the Rays won’t play any actual exhibitions, just intrasquad games. … Infielder Brandon Lowe admitted it’s more challenging to stay in shape with wife Madison running her custom Sweet and Lowe Bakery business from their home: “It hurts it a little bit, but the good thing most of the time the cookies aren’t for me. … She’ll make all these incredible cookies and if I get too close she’ll smack my hands away.” … Best wishes in retirement to Brandon Guyer, who had a most memorable big-league debut, spent parts of five seasons with the Rays and was known for his toughness, and stubbornness, in being hit by pitches 24 times in 2015, 85 total in 517 games. … Under the government agreement to allow training camp in Toronto, Jays players, per TSN, are told that by leaving the bubble of the Rogers Centre and attached hotel they are subject to a $750,000 fine and potential jail time. … Former Red Sox, Tigers, Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski has signed on as a consultant/adviser with the Nashville group seeking to get an expansion or relocated franchise. Tampa-born Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa and former big-league pitcher Dave Stewart are also on board.