ST. PETERSBURG — Diego Castillo was back on the field for the first time in nearly a week after dealing with what he said was a family matter, and Chaz Roe threw off the main Tropicana Field mound for the first time Monday.
Those were two good developments for the Rays as they try to get a sense of what their pitching staff may look like when they open the season in 10 days.
Much else remains unclear as a product of the unusual situation teams face in trying to ascertain availability, a much more uncertain process these days.
Injuries, always a concern with pitchers — especially at the start of the season — are more topical now given the accelerated training camp that followed the extended layoff due to the coronavirus shutdown. So, too, will be questions about how much they can pitch on a given night and how frequently they can be used.
Harder to manage are issues related to COVID-19 testing and protocols. Based on the every-other-day testing and daily symptoms and exposure queries, they may lead to late night and morning requirements to immediately isolate a player who has a positive or incomplete test. Decisions to hold others out, perhaps for several days, may also be made as a precaution.
Plus, players themselves could be more concerned about not feeling well, especially if their families are with them. (And that’s not factoring in players — no Rays yet — deciding to opt out of playing.)
Plus, there’s other random issues that can keep a player out unexpectedly — sick or injured family member, suspension, passport problems, etc. In other words, setting the lineup and pitching matchups may leave manager Kevin Cash and staff writing in pencil and juggling plans every day.
“I think that’s pretty fair,” Cash said. “I mean, who knows what’s gonna take place once the season starts. I don’t think any of us would deny that this has been a learning experience, at times exhausting for all parties involved.
“...You’re just adding a different element to it than just your typical injuries that we’ve seen for umpteen years throughout the game. ... We’re communicating with players and MLB, and making decisions based on the guidelines, the parameters that we’ve all agreed upon to make this season go.”
Castillo hadn’t been participating on the Trop field since July 7, though some players are said to work out in other parts of the stadium or outdoors, where they are not seen by reporters, who are limited to the press box.
He wouldn’t share details about why he was away, except to say he stayed in the St. Petersburg area, where he had been during the shutdown, and has his wife and young with him. And, in response to a question, that his absence was not related to coronavirus or testing protocols.
“I had to take care of my family,” Castillo said, “I had to do something personal with my family.”
Castillo said he missed only three workouts and won’t be set back in prepping for the season. “I’m ready to go,” he said. “If we started tomorrow I’m ready to face (however many) hitters I can face.”
Cash expects Castillo, who had been working out informally at the Trop for six weeks prior to Spring 2.0 opening, to be ready, with plans for him to throw a bullpen session Tuesday, then face hitters by Thursday.
Roe, who missed the first three workouts due to an infected blister on his right middle finger, is also expected to be ready, looking sharp Monday.
But the Rays have other potential concerns about their pitching staff.
Two of their top five starters, Tyler Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos, are among a group of four players (also, infielder Jose Martinez and outfielder Randy Arozarena) who have not participated in any of the workouts that started July 3. And one of the top replacement candidates, Brendan McKay, has been “missing” for the past week. The team won’t even confirm their absences, much less say whether any or all tested positive for the coronavirus or were exposed to someone who did.
So when, Cash was asked, will they decide which guys they can expect to have and who they will go without, at least initially?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I wish I knew. And I can’t stand saying ‘I don’t know’ because we/I owe answers to you guys, but that one I really don’t know.
“With all of these attendance issues, there’s multiple reasons why players might not be visible. Saying that, a lot is going to depend on their overall health. And when I say ‘overall health’ I mean, obviously the (COVID-19) and the testing. But also their overall physical health and where they are from a physical standpoint and being able to compete. So, I don’t have a good answer.”
By next week, they’ll need one.