ST. PETERSBURG — The two men standing behind home plate during the Rays’ Tuesday practice both sported masks beneath the facemask that their jobs require. Catcher Mike Zunino and umpire Mark Wegner doubled up throughout the four-inning simulated game.
“That’s obviously been a concern of most catchers (and) umpires,” Zunino said. “We’re going to be in contact with a guy a few feet behind us and in front of us.”
The decision by both men to wear protective masks comes a day after veteran umpire Joe West, who has openly questioned coronavirus death numbers nationally, called the Rays simulated game from behind home plate without a mask. It was the first time an umpire was present to call a simulated game. Catcher Chris Herrmann did not wear a mask Monday either.
“As long as there’s no vision impairment from the mask, then I think it’s doable,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But I do think it’s up to the individual to decide.”
Zunino and Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe joined first baseman Ji-Man Choi and third baseman Yandy Diaz in deciding to mask up at Tuesday’s practice. They have been in the minority among players, but all staff and coaches have been wearing masks and many also sport gloves.
Not all of the Rays feel comfortable playing in a mask.
Pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who is the first known Rays player to test positive for COVID-19, pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Glasnow said he quarantined and produced two negative tests to rejoin the team. But don’t expect him to wear a mask on the mound.
“I don’t want to play with a mask,” Glasnow said. “It’s kind of hard just to breathe. It’s nice to have it on just as much as you can, but if I’m going to pitch or lift or throw, I’m not going to wear it.”
Loup making pitching decisions harder
Cash kept his description of how left-handed pitcher Aaron Loup has been throwing short.
Loup is in a battle to earn a spot on the Rays’ 40-man roster. After a strong Spring Training 1.0, it appears from Cash’s comments that Loup is continuing to make a case for himself as a reliable reliever.
“He certainly doesn’t look like a fun at-bat against when you’re a left-handed batter,” said Cash, noting Loup’s “funky delivery.”
Cash said the Rays are lucky that Loup is healthy; an elbow injury sidelined him from game action in April 2019. He added that the time off from the season delay benefitted Loup, who looks “really sharp, really crisp.”
“Obviously, we have multiple decisions to make going down to the wire,” Cash said.
The Rays will have three games this season on Fox Sports 1: Aug. 14 at Toronto, Aug. 25 vs. Baltimore and Aug. 28 at Miami. None of the Rays’ 60 regular-season games, however, will be aired on national TV. ... Tuesday was the first day at Tropicana Field that the scoreboard was used. That and the presence of umpires at simulated games have been two moves to better prepare players for the shortened, altered season that will likely be played without fans in attendance.
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Quote of the day
“Yandy Diaz, he amazes all of us daily with his natural ability to basically get out of bed and rake. And that’s what he does.”
Cash after Diaz doubled in the simulated game and had a strong batting practice afterward. Cash said Diaz didn’t even take a swing until his first at-bat on Tuesday.