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Rays concerned about baseball’s COVID-19 problem

After MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says season is in danger, Rays preach personal responsibility but acknowledge they can do more.
Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi and umpire Paul Nauert all wear masks during a game Monday at Tropicana Field. Not everyone has been following the sport's coronavirus protocols so closely.
Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi and umpire Paul Nauert all wear masks during a game Monday at Tropicana Field. Not everyone has been following the sport's coronavirus protocols so closely. [ JONAH HINEBAUGH | Times ]
Published Aug. 1, 2020
Updated Aug. 1, 2020

The major-league season is just one week old and it is already in danger of being shut down because of COVID-19.

Following the Miami Marlins outbreak, in which 18 players and staff members tested positive, games were postponed involving Miami and three others teams (one of those teams, the Phillies, had two staffers test positive days after playing the Marlins).

On Friday, two Cardinals players tested positive for COVID-19, forcing St. Louis’ game in Milwaukee to be postponed.

Related: Romano: MLB is being shortsighted with Marlins outbreak

All of that prompted commissioner Rob Manfred’s message to player union chief Tony Clark Friday telling him that if baseball’s coronavirus problem doesn’t get better, he could shut down the season, according to ESPN.

“There’s a lot of people that are concerned, scratching their head,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said on a video conferencing call before Tampa Bay opened a three-game series Friday in Baltimore. “And I think it’s fair that the commissioner comes out and says that. If you think you’re doing a good job, do a better job.

“We’ve got to do a better job as a whole as an industry if we want to see this thing through, just to make sure that we’re all adhering to the protocols that are put in place to keep us safe.”

Rays player union rep Tyler Glasnow said he heard from MLBPA special assistant Jose Cruz, Jr., and the report was a point of discussion in the Rays’ clubhouse, Glasnow said.

An internal investigation into the Marlins found that players were going out last week in Atlanta and went to the bar at the team hotel, according to Bleacher Report. Hearing that didn’t go over well in the Rays clubhouse, where players feel they’ve done everything to ensure health and safety.

Related: Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier content with celebrating his way

“It’s not just about you or your team,” Glasnow said. “It affects every other person and staff member. So to take it that irresponsibly and go out and do some sort of self-serving acts is pretty ridiculous. So I hope guys understand that you kind of have to make sacrifices, like I said before, for 60 days or whatever it is and there’s no excuse to just go out and go to bars right now.”

Cash said the Rays can still do more, and said that before Thursday’s game the team had renewed focus on not giving high-fives and staying distant.

“It was probably the oddest day in a dugout that I’ve had being in a dugout,” Cash said. “To not high-five a guy or not not have a close conversation, we’re used to that. No touching is something that we’ve got to do a better job of, and we’re going to continue to kind of harp on that and ask our players to follow that lead.”

Beeks blowing it by them

Following his scoreless 1⅔-inning, two-strikeout relief outing in Thursday’s 2-1 loss in Atlanta, left-hander Jalen Beeks is averaging more than two strikeouts an inning, logging 14 strikeouts in 6⅔ relief innings.

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Beeks’ delivery is deceptive. He hides the ball well behind his body, making his pitches difficult to pick up. This season, his strikeout numbers are soaring early, something he attributes to a clear mind and a subtle tweak to his delivery.

He is getting many more swings and misses off his fastball (45.5 whiff rate) and changeup (42.4) than he did last season (18.7 percent and 27.1, respectively), an improvement Beeks attributes to stepping across his body.

“It’s allowed me to stay closed,” Beeks said. “I feel when I can stay closed, I can be behind the baseball more, which automatically helps my fastball and changeup, which I’ve thrown a lot more, and I’ve got more movement. I’m throwing it harder, which is what you want.”

Quick hits

1B Ji-Man Choi returned to the starting lineup Friday after missing two starts with a sore shoulder. He came off the bench in the late innings Thursday. … OF Austin Meadows (COVID-19 list) hit off a machine in the batting cage in Port Charlotte, saw 10 pitches of live BP and did six high-intensity arc runs and a total body lift. ... OF Randy Arozarena (COVID-19 list), also working out in Port Charlotte, took batting practice, shagged fly balls in the outfield, did base-running drills and a total body lift.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.