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Ji-Man Choi gets a warm return to Rays lineup

Fans and teammates show love for the first baseman, who also was productive at the plate Sunday.
Ji-Man Choi returned to the Rays lineup Sunday, going 3-for-4, including a first-inning single.
Ji-Man Choi returned to the Rays lineup Sunday, going 3-for-4, including a first-inning single. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 16, 2021|Updated May 16, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi, a fan favorite making his first appearance this season after recovering from knee surgery, returned in style during Sunday’s 7-1 victory against the Mets at Tropicana Field. Choi was 3-for-4, including a first-inning single on the first pitch he saw from Mets right-hander Marcus Stroman.

The Trop’s fans made him feel at home with their constant chants of “Ji!…Man!…Choi! … Ji!…Man!…Choi!”

“I really want to thank the fans,” Choi said. “Every time I stepped on the field, they were cheering for me. That really helped a lot and I wanted to do my best for them.

“I felt like I saw the ball really well today. When I woke up, everything felt good. It feels good just to be in the lineup with my teammates and contribute to this team in any way possible.”

Choi, who got at-bats at Triple-A Durham before re-joining the Rays, said his timing felt good. He has felt some discomfort in his right knee, perhaps due to travels throughout the minor leagues, but will continue to monitor his body and provide feedback if necessary.

Cash said Choi’s presence was a welcome sight.

“He has been a big part of our team the last couple of seasons,” Cash said. “We know he can do special things at the plate and he played tremendous defense in the postseason. He lengthens us out, helps shape our roster and helps us to utilize all of our matchups.”

Choi’s presence also provided a boost to his teammates.

“The fans are loving it and so are we,” shortstop Willy Adames said. “We needed that bat and that character in the dugout and the clubhouse. We’re happy to have him back.”

Mejia back as well

The Rays also brought back catcher Francisco Mejia (intercostal discomfort) from the 10-day IL and designated catcher Kevan Smith for assignment. Mejia started Sunday’s game.

Cash said Smith got caught in a numbers game.

“He’s a big-league catcher,” Cash said. “We understand that and he understands that. At that position, there are only 60 of them in the big leagues. If he gets claimed and picked up, we’re pulling for him. (If he doesn’t), we have a lot of trust in him. If somebody goes down, we are confident in his abilities and his knowledge of our pitching staff.”

Yoshi to the Dodgers

Yoshi Tsutsugo, who struggled in two seasons with the Rays after a much-celebrated acquisition from Japan, was traded to the Dodgers late Saturday night for cash. Tsutsugo, designated for assignment by the Rays, would have become a free agent Tuesday. Had he not been claimed, he could have accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Durham.

The Dodgers will send the Rays a prorated share of Tsutsugo’s minimum salary (around $430,000). The Rays are still responsible for the remaining balance on Tsutsugo’s 2021 salary (more than $5 million). Tsutsugo hit .187 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs in 77 games with the Rays in two seasons.

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“I’m excited for Yoshi and his family,” Cash said. “We want to see Yoshi do well. We want him to have success. He has worked hard enough. With the right opportunity, that can happen. We wish him nothing but the best. We care a lot about Yoshi.”


The Rays acquired infielder/outfielder Wyatt Mathisen, 27, from the Diamondbacks for cash. Mathisen, a converted catcher who will go to Triple-A Durham, spent parts of the past two seasons with Arizona’s major-league team. Wednesday, he was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks. ... The Rays have won four straight, one short of this season’s longest win streak. … It was the team’s first sweep at home this season. … During the four-game win streak, the Rays have scored 31 runs on 42 hits and 15 walks. … Manuel Margot has hit safely in five of his last six games to follow a 1-for-22 skid. … The Rays have Monday off, then begin a three-game series at the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday, followed by a continuation of the “road trip”Friday by starting a four-game series against the Blue Jays at Dunedin. Rays players will stay in their homes and drive to Dunedin’s TD Ballpark.

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