ST. PETERSBURG — Any social-justice statement made by the Rays during Friday’s season-opening national anthem at Tropicana Field won’t be a completely collaborative demonstration.
The longest-tenured current Ray said Wednesday he plans to stand before the game against the Blue Jays, though he supports any teammate who chooses to do otherwise.
“I love this great country we live in, and obviously there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on right now, but I will be standing,” centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “I can’t speak for everyone else, but I will be standing.”
Kiermaier, who will begin his seventh full season with the club Friday, said the Rays have had conversations about what to do — or not do — during the anthem as protests against racial injustice continue throughout the country. The general sentiment, he indicated, is to allow each player to express himself as he sees fit, with the support of his peers.
“We’re not going to make it a group thing, like, ‘Hey, we all have to do this or that,’ " Kiermaier said.
“Each individual has a preference on what they want to do, and that’s all I’ll say on that matter, because we understand where everyone’s coming from in many different ways. But at the same time, everyone has the right to do what they choose, and we have to respect that.”
Right-handed reliever Pete Fairbanks concurred.
“I haven’t made up my mind on what I plan to do for the anthem,” he said. “If people want to kneel, if they don’t want to kneel, that is their right to do that through the First Amendment and … the people who fought to uphold that freedom. So whatever stance people take, I’m all for.”
Rolling out the relievers
Manager Kevin Cash brandished his coveted bullpen during Wednesday’s four-inning simulated scrimmage, letting eight different relievers face at least two batters each.
No one gave up an extra-base hit. The most impressive: right-hander Oliver Drake, who took the mound first and struck out Jose Martinez (swinging at a high fastball) and Joey Wendle before exiting. Nine of his 10 pitches were for strikes.
“The thought and the idea of managing games is certainly back in the fold,” Cash said.
“It was not for a while there; it wasn’t even probably that first week of spring (2.0). But when you see those guys bouncing from the bullpen on to the mound, and the potential of the mixing and matching that we can do to put ourselves in a position to win, it gets really exciting.”
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The Rays’ decision to open the season with three catchers on the active roster obviously delighted Kevan Smith, who secured the final spot. A former Angel and nonroster invitee to the original spring training, Smith said he believes he’ll have ample playing opportunities based on the Rays’ in-game creativity.
“I’ve got to be ready to step in and catch a game, I’ve got to be ready to pinch hit, catch late in the games, obviously that (designated hitter) spot against lefties,” he said.
“I think what we’ve got to think about here is where is this (COVID-19) virus gonna go, where are these injuries gonna take us, so I think there’s gonna be a lot of ways to get at-bats and get some playing time.”
Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill will hold a watch party ― with some restrictions in place ― Friday starting at 5 p.m. at its Central Avenue site. A large-screen TV truck will be positioned in the restaurant’s east parking lot, while all other TVs also will be tuned in to the game. All indoor and outdoor seating will be socially distanced, and service will be provided only to those who are seated. Standing or sitting at the bars will be prohibited. ... The Rays and Royals worked out a deal for right-hander Stephen Woods, a Rule 5 pick last year, to stay with Kansas City. The Rays will get cash or a player to be named. ... Seiya Sano, a batting-practice pitcher and liaison to Yoshi Tsutsugo, logged some outfield action for the second consecutive scrimmage, starting in right field for the light-blue squad.
They said it
“Unbelievable. There’s many words to describe them, but there’s not one guy on that mound that you’re not worried about. There’s not a comfortable at-bat.” ― Smith, offering a general assessment of the Rays’ pitching staff