Notes: Perez eyes backup catcher's job

July 14th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- While most of the roster decisions that the Rays face will center around their pitching staff, Tampa Bay will also have to make a decision on its backup catcher.

and , both non-roster invitees, have made a good impression on the Rays due to their abilities on the field and their veteran presence. Of the two, Smith is the more accomplished hitter at the big league level, but Herrmann is capable of playing the outfield.

But remains the most interesting option and could offer the most upside, which could be the reason he might get the nod on the Rays’ Opening Day roster. So far in Summer Camp, Perez hit a home run off Charlie Morton last week and hit a ringing double off Tyler Glasnow on Tuesday.

“[He’s] a guy that is starting to come into his own,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “He seems pretty motivated and kind of hungry to make the most of the opportunity that is presented.”

Perez opened the 2019 season as the backup catcher, but injuries derailed the start of his season and the acquisition of Travis d’Arnaud kept Perez with Triple-A Durham even when healthy. While at Triple-A, however, Perez showed some improved hitting, launching 13 home runs in just 54 games.

That home run production carried into Spring Training, as the left-handed-hitting catcher hit two home runs before the stoppage. During Summer Camp, Perez has maintained that focus and has put together some of the best at-bats during a handful of simulated games. Overall, his approach at the plate has been a bright spot for the Rays, which could ultimately be the reason he might end up on the Opening Day roster for a second consecutive season.

“When we acquired Mikey two years ago, we got a left-handed bat that can really throw, really can catch and really has good bat-to-ball skills, and we saw that at the end of ‘18,” Cash said. “Then in 2019, for many reasons, it all started because of injuries, he didn’t have his best season that he was capable of having.

“The injuries didn’t help, and then we had Travis d’Arnaud come in and make the most of an opportunity. Who’s to say Mikey can’t make the most of an opportunity for us at some point, whether it’s Opening Day or at any point in the season? He’s got a lot of talent and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of what he’s capable of doing yet.”

Zunino considers wearing mask
Due to being in close proximity with the home-plate umpire and the hitter, Rays catcher Mike Zunino said Tuesday that he’s still considering wearing a mask underneath his catcher's mask when he’s behind the plate. A big part of his decision will depend on comfort, especially when the team is on the road and playing in hot conditions.

“I’ve been toying with it,” Zunino said. “Sometimes I’ll slide it off, sometimes I’ll just have it just to cover my mouth. It was nice to have an umpire back there today and sort of discussing what guys are going to do. I’ve pedaled around with a few different types of masks and trying to get whatever the safety is, and I’m sort of just toying with it before the season starts.”

Yandy Díaz and Ji-Man Choi have also been sporting a mask during workouts, and Choi has mentioned that he’s still undecided about wearing the mask for games. Home-plate umpire Mark Wegner also wore a mask on Tuesday.

“It was nice to have a guy that I’ve worked with in the past and have that conversation with him," said Zunino. "He was telling me that he has a few kids as well, and just the boat he was in. He’s going to try going most of the year wearing one. Obviously different areas of the country are going to be different. I mean, you get to Atlanta during a day game, it may be a little bit tougher. That has been a concern for most catchers and umpires, you know, we’re going to be in contact with a guy just a few feet behind us and in front of us. It’s just the safety measures that we’re going to have to take. He said he’s seen that most guys are going to be on board with that, so that’s reassuring.”

Tuesday’s attendance
With Tyler Glasnow returning to the field on Tuesday, that now leaves five players who haven’t been spotted at Rays camp for more than a week. Randy Arozarena, Yonny Chirinos and José Martínez have not been seen since the beginning of camp, while Austin Meadows has not been seen on the field since participating in the first workout on July 3 and Brendan McKay has not been seen on the mound for more than a week.