The Rays have been battling through injuries all season, with Austin Meadows being the latest player to land on the injured list on Friday. But Tampa Bay will get a key piece back on Sunday, as catcher Mike Zunino is expected in the lineup.
“We’re really close. We’re hoping that tomorrow we’ll activate and have him in the lineup for tomorrow’s day game,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Saturday's fourth of a five-game set against the Orioles. “With that, his progress has gone well.”
Zunino was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left oblique strain on Aug. 29, retroactive to Aug. 26, but he traveled with the team to Baltimore, hoping to be activated over the weekend. The Rays' catcher has gone through multiple rounds of live batting practice and simulated games as he nears his return.
“It’s not the most ideal build-up, but that’s what’s at stake right now with no games for him to go play in,” Cash said. “But he’s in a good spot and should be 100 percent ready to go.”
Zunino has had another slow season at the plate, hitting .133 in 60 at-bats, but the catcher was swinging the bat better before going down with the oblique ailment. In his last six games, Zunino had a 1.083 OPS with two home runs and four RBIs.
Despite his struggles at the plate, Zunino’s real value comes defensively. Last season, he had a 12.7 defensive fWAR as part of a 107.4 defensive fWAR in his eight-year career. With Zunino coming back, the Rays have a decision to make on the roster. Catcher Kevan Smith and pitcher Sean Gilmartin are possible DFA candidates in order to activate Zunino.
While Cash said both of them taking batting practice is “very encouraging,” the Rays’ skipper made it clear that the duo is not nearing a return and still needs to clear multiple hurdles before being activated. Regardless, it’s more positive news for a banged up Rays team.
“Taking BP is still a fairly long way away from actually being in a game,” Cash said. “Both of them [will take BP] on Sunday and Monday, and then we’ll see where they are on Tuesday.
“They are going to take batting practice tomorrow. We’re hopeful of Sunday and Monday BP, and [we'll] see where we are on Tuesday.”