ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays’ simulated game looked a bit more like a real one with veteran umpire Joe West behind the plate on Monday.
West, who lives in the Tampa Bay area, was the first umpire to join the Rays during Spring 2.0, part of a league-wide plan to get them some training.
West’s appearance at Tropicana Field came a day after Florida reported a single-day record 15,300 COVID-19 cases and a week after he publicly expressed doubt about the number of coronavirus deaths in the country.
“Those statistics aren’t accurate, I don’t care who’s counting them,” West, 67, told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “The government has been giving these hospitals extra money if someone dies of the coronavirus. So everybody that dies is because of coronavirus. I don’t care if you get hit by a car, it’s coronavirus.‘'
A statement by the Major League Baseball Umpires Association followed West’s comments and said, without naming him, that “recent public comments” do not represent its stance.
That aside, Rays players said his presence was helpful in emulating a live game. In days past, a coach has been standing several feet behind the catcher to call balls and strikes.
“It helps you be able to lock more in on the zone and just learn the strike zone a little better,” said pitcher Chaz Roe, who threw one inning Monday.
West was wearing gloves when he called two innings, but he had no medical-type mask on other than his protective umpire’s mask. Field personnel are not required to wear masks under MLB rules, but are encouraged. Face shields could also be an option.
Some Rays players have worn masks on the field during workouts.
Catcher Chris Hermann said that would make it hard to breathe and be a “tricky situation” for umpires.
“I don’t know if they’re going to try to keep their distance or what,” Hermann said of umpires. “But who knows? That could affect balls and strikes being called.”
Chaz Roe full go
Rays reliever Chaz Roe, now healed from an infected blister on his throwing hand, threw an inning during the simulated game at Tropicana Field. He has said his cutter will be a priority this season and that showed in his morning appearance.
“I threw quite a bit of them,” Roe said. “It felt good, a couple of them backed up on me, that homer backed up on me.”
Daniel Robertson got the best of Roe on a cutter he sent over the leftfield wall. Other than that, Roe struck out two of the five batters he faced.
The return to live action helped him get back into a rhythm.
“The swings and the takes you get on those pitches will let you know how good it’s going,” Roe said.
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Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Nick Anderson also threw at the Trop.
Quote of the day
“Excited to see that Joey Wendle hit a homer. He was really excited and called me to tell me, Face-Timed me. Which is typical Joey fashion.”
— Rays manager Kevin Cash, on hearing the big news from the Trop
Hermann, a veteran signed to a minor-league deal, acknowledged he has an opt-out clause in his contract five days before the season starts, but said he hopes to stay with the Rays. … The Rays have had some players do drills outside to get used to the heat, and Cash said Monday that included another simulated game, with Charlie Morton throwing five innings, Blake Snell “basically three” and Anthony Banda two, and the outfielders getting at-bats. … For something all parties say isn’t serious, first baseman Ji-Man Choi continued to experiment with switch-hitting, taking batting practice right-handed and hitting a homer.
Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.