With Ji-Man Choi still sidelined by right knee inflammation, manager Kevin Cash said the Rays are preparing as if the first baseman will not be ready for Opening Day.
Choi is nearing the end of his 10-day rest/recovery period following a cortisone shot last weekend, and Cash said he remains in “pretty good spirits.” But even if Choi is ready to resume baseball activities early this week, the Rays would have to rush him back too quickly to ensure he’s up to speed on April 1 at Marlins Park.
The Rays hope Choi will not be sidelined for long, and they are understandably playing it safe with an issue that sidelined him twice during Spring Training.
“We are hoping that it is a short-term thing, and [with] the information that we have right now, it should be, as long as there's no setback,” Cash said. “He's been fine throughout his rehab and saying that the knee feels significantly better, albeit he hasn't really done anything, taxed it or anything.”
The Rays will miss their first baseman’s energy on the field and his patient at-bats in their lineup for however long he’s out, but they are equipped to handle his injury given their depth in the infield. The right-handed-hitting Yandy Díaz and Mike Brosseau spent time at first base last season, and the lefty-hitting Yoshi Tsutsugo has taken well to the position this spring.
“It's unfortunate, obviously. Ji-Man's a huge part of what really gets us going,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “What he does for us defensively [and] with the at-bats he puts together, he's a big part of that lineup. The best thing to do is do whatever we can to get him healthy as quick as we can and have him for the long haul.
“It opens the door for some other guys. And this is the one organization where I think everybody understands, if there's an opening, guys are ready to take it. So in that absence, I'm sure somebody will step up big for us and help us win some ballgames.”
The question now is whether the Rays will select a position player to replace Choi on their Opening Day roster or, more likely, break camp with 12 hitters and 14 pitchers. They could make one decision for the first series of the season, which will take place under National League rules, then readjust when they travel to Boston or back home to Tropicana Field.
Honeywell to make long-awaited start
Last week, right-hander Brent Honeywell Jr. said he wanted to pitch in a game before the end of Spring Training, noting that it would be “beneficial” to face hitters in a different uniform. It’s been a while, after all, but it’s finally going to happen.
Honeywell will have a chance to pitch against another team for the first time since September 2017 on Monday afternoon, when he’s expected to take the mound to start the Rays’ game against the Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park. The outing has been a long time coming for Tampa Bay’s No. 20 prospect, who’s undergone four elbow surgeries in the years since his last competitive game action.
“You can't simulate stuff like that. Facing your own guys, I've done that. Healthy or not, I've done that,” Honeywell said recently following an impressive live batting practice session before he was optioned to Minor League camp. “I've faced guys with the same jersey on -- and I love doing it. I love helping those guys out there as much as they help me. But I feel like getting me in front of a guy with a different jersey on is pretty beneficial, and I feel like I can handle that right now.”
Honeywell is a popular teammate who’s earned his peers’ respect with his tireless work ethic despite the injuries he’s endured. Expect to see a bunch of Rays players and staff in the seats, watching with great pride and interest, when Honeywell takes the mound.
Right-handers Chris Ellis, Nick Anderson and Stetson Allie and lefty Dietrich Enns are also among the Rays’ probable pitchers for Monday’s game. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET. The game will air on FOX Sports Sun and MLB.TV, and a Rays radio call will be available for free on MLB.com.
Around the horn
• Left-hander Josh Fleming, a candidate to crack the Opening Day bullpen or serve as important rotation depth, pitched three innings in a nine-inning “B” game against the Braves on a backfield at Charlotte Sports Park on Sunday.
• Opening Day starter Tyler Glasnow is scheduled to pitch six innings in a backfield game on Monday. Glasnow is slated to pitch to catcher Francisco Mejía. That would put the big right-hander on track to pitch one more time, next Saturday, on regular rest, before taking the mound at Marlins Park on April 1.
• Veteran reliever Chaz Roe, who last pitched in a game on March 13, has been limited with a “cranky shoulder,” Cash said, but Roe is feeling better and should get back on the mound soon.
• Cash said the Rays’ 11-1 loss to the Braves on Sunday at Charlotte Sports Park “wasn’t a very good day, to say the least, all around.” Tampa Bay managed only one run on a Ryan Boldt homer, his second of the spring, and tallied six hits and one walk while striking out seven times.
• Right-hander David Hess allowed three runs on two hits and two walks in two innings, and non-roster veteran Hunter Strickland allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in the ninth.
• Left-hander Cody Reed’s performance provided one highlight, however, as he continued his strong Spring Training. Reed retired Jake Lamb, Cristian Pache and Braves starter Max Fried in order in the sixth, running his streak of consecutive hitters retired to 12 over four appearances.
“Cody's had a good spring,” Cash said. “Definitely looks like he could help us.”