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COVID-19 issues continue as Rays are ‘dropping people pretty quick’

Notes | Catcher Francisco Mejia remains the only player sidelined with no date for his return; staffers have been especially hit hard.
The Rays' Francisco Mejia, right, and Ji-Man Choi celebrate after they both scored on Mejia's home run during a game against the Cubs last Wednesday. When the team got back from Chicago, Mejia tested positive for COVID and hasn't played since.
The Rays' Francisco Mejia, right, and Ji-Man Choi celebrate after they both scored on Mejia's home run during a game against the Cubs last Wednesday. When the team got back from Chicago, Mejia tested positive for COVID and hasn't played since. [ CHARLES REX ARBOGAST | AP ]
Published Apr. 26|Updated Apr. 27

ST. PETERSBURG — The COVID-19 outbreak in the Rays clubhouse continues to be a concern, although as of Tuesday night catcher Francisco Mejia was the only player sidelined.

“A bunch of people came in and retested (Monday) and the report is still not good,” manager Kevin Cash said. “So far, we’ve been fortunate that it hasn’t affected too many players, but it has certainly affected staff and support staff. So we wish them well.

“We’re dropping people pretty quick. And we’re doing everything we can to keep it contained.”

Mejia has been out since testing positive after the team’s return from Chicago last week, missing the weekend series against the Red Sox. Cash said he didn’t have an update on Mejia’s condition or a timetable yet for his return, but expected it to be within days.

“He has done everything on his end to be vaccinated, boosted, all of those things,” Cash said. “So now it’s just a matter of getting some negative tests where … the numbers say that he’s not contagious.”

Infielder Yandy Diaz and lefty reliever Jeffrey Springs have missed one game each. Several players and staff were wearing masks Tuesday in the clubhouse and on the field during pre-game drills.

The Mariners also have had COVID issues affecting players and staff. Manager Scott Servais returned Tuesday after missing five games; third-base coach Manny Acta is still out.

Zunino ‘confident’ he’ll be OK

Catcher Mike Zunino left the game an inning after feeling tightness in his left bicep on a swing in his first at-bat, but neither he nor Cash expect an extended absence or injured list stint. Zunino received treatment on the arm Tuesday and expects to be sore Wednesday but not sidelined.

“See how I feel (Wednesday) but hopefully bounce back from it and feel pretty good‚” he said. “I’m pretty confident we’ll be okay.” If Zunino were to be out, the Rays don’t have any catchers with much big-league experience at Triple-A.

Pinto makes first hit count

Rene Pinto celebrates with Josh Lowe after hitting a two-run home run in the seventh inning against the Mariners on Tuesday.
Rene Pinto celebrates with Josh Lowe after hitting a two-run home run in the seventh inning against the Mariners on Tuesday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Catcher Rene Pinto made the best of his first playing time, rapping a home run for his first major-league hit in his second at-bat.

“It was so cool, it felt almost like I was flying,” he said.

The clubhouse staff retrieved the ball — the fan who caught it was happy to exchange it for a signed Pinto ball for himself and a young fan sitting in front of him — and Pinto plans to send it to his parents in Venezuela. Pinto was the 10th Rays position player to homer for his first hit (first since Wander Franco), and the 11th in American League history to do so coming off the bench (since Seattle’s Greg Dobbs in 2004).

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Miscellany

The seven runs allowed in the fourth inning of the 8-4 loss to Seattle were the most by the Rays in an inning since Sept. 11, 2019, at Texas. ... Cash said the Rays likely will stick with 13 pitchers and 13 position players when rosters are reduced from 28 to 26 on Monday; Major League Baseball said Tuesday that teams can have 14 pitchers (and thus only three position players on the bench) until May 29, then will be limited to 13. ... Lefty Ryan Yarbrough, out since the start of the season with left groin tightness, will make another rehab start for Triple-A Durham on Thursday. He lasted only one-third of an inning Saturday due to a lack of command but felt fine. … Cash said he left a message congratulating Tyler Zombro, who made his return to the mound Sunday for Triple-A Durham, having sustained traumatic head injuries when hit by a line drive June 3.

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