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After first positive COVID tests, Rays are crossing their fingers

Catcher Francisco Mejia has been the only player affected so far, but multiple staff members have tested positive this week.
Tampa Bay catcher Francisco Mejia tested positive for COVID 19 along with multiple other members of Tampa Bay's travelling party after a six-day road trip to Chicago.
Tampa Bay catcher Francisco Mejia tested positive for COVID 19 along with multiple other members of Tampa Bay's travelling party after a six-day road trip to Chicago. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Apr. 23|Updated Apr. 23

ST. PETERSBURG — The news was not good Friday afternoon, but it could have been — and might eventually be — much worse.

Multiple members of the Rays’ traveling party tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home from Chicago on Thursday, though catcher Francisco Mejia was the only player affected.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got some pretty good practice at it,” manager Kevin Cash said of dealing with the virus. “We’ve seen from other clubs what they’ve gone through. You don’t like to see it for any clubs, and certainly not ours. Hopefully we’ve kind of got it confined or nipped, whatever you want to call it.

“And hope that Frankie’s doing OK and the rest of the staff that wasn’t able to be here tonight.”

The Rays initially held Mejia out of the clubhouse as a precaution Friday afternoon. They got the positive test result later in the day and placed him on the COVID-19 injury list.

Rene Pinto was called up from Triple-A Durham but did not reach Tropicana Field in time for the game against Boston.

Mejia, 26, is off to a hot start, with a .348 batting average and 10 RBIs, which is tied with Wander Franco for the team lead.

“There are things that all teams have had to deal with the last two years, and this is why you have a 40-man roster,” centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “But we’ve got 28 guys ready to go, and we’re going to try to win a series.”

The Red Sox have some COVID issues of their own. Manager Alex Cora tested positive Thursday and did not accompany the team to Tampa Bay.

Mazza joins mates on injured list

Bulk-innings reliever Chris Mazza struggled in his first two appearances in 2022, but the lower-back spasms that sent him to the 10-day injured list did not show up until after his last outing. Mazza is the fourth pitcher to go on the injured list since April 11. Cash said they were hopeful that treatment and muscle relaxants could solve the problem, but Mazza was still not ready Friday. He would have likely pitched multiple innings in Saturday’s game, but the Rays will now have to reassess. “It’s a missed opportunity for us and for Maz,” Cash said. “It’s unfortunate.” His stay on the injured list is retroactive to April 18.

An old face with familiar results

Colin Poche had an impressive return Friday in his first Tropicana Field appearance in more than two years. Coming back from his second Tommy John surgery since 2015, Poche retired the Red Sox on six pitches in the seventh, including a 95 mph called third strike on Rafael Devers. Poche blew out his elbow in college, then again in the leadup to the shortened 2020 season. He had not been in a big-league game since the 2019 American League Division Series against the Astros. “Coming off the surgery I had, having done that rehab before, the more outings I got under my belt, the more comfortable I’d feel and the sharper my stuff would be,” Poche said. “And I think that’s the case (now). I was ready for when this opportunity would come. And I think my stuff is in a good spot right now.”

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Miscellany

Cash announced after the game that J.P. Feyereisen will start Saturday against the Red Sox. … Franco became the youngest player in franchise history with a multihomer game at age 21 and 52 days. … He’s barely old, even by baseball standards, but Kiermaier is the senior citizen of Rays position players. The centerfielder turned 32 Friday: “I feel 32, I do. I feel 32. I always say I’m trying to age like a nice bottle of wine, and there are certain days where I definitely feel like a nice bottle of Caymus. And then there are other days I feel like a $2 bottle.”

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