Rays get to enjoy relaxed COVID protocols

Club hits 85 percent vaccination threshold; Choi back in lineup against KC

May 25th, 2021

For the first time since last season began, the Rays did not have to wear masks in the dugout on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. That was the most visible change as they were rewarded with some loosened COVID-19 protocols for officially having at least 85% of their Tier 1 players, coaches and close-contact staff reach fully vaccinated status.

Clubs were informed just before Opening Day that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals and for clubs where 85% of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated. This applies to all players and staff who are considered Tier 1. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.

“I think the guys who have been vaccinated and are kind of itching to get back to some version of normalcy -- and in Major League Baseball, I think everyone's pretty psyched about it, to be honest,” veteran right-hander Collin McHugh said. “We've still obviously got to be extremely careful. A lot of stuff hangs in the balance here, making sure that we're all doing our best collectively to make sure we're staying safe and continuing to protect the guys in the clubhouse who haven't been vaccinated, guys around baseball haven't been vaccinated as well.

“So we understand that we can't completely let off the gas when it comes to taking these protocols seriously, but having a little bit of relaxation, I think, is going to give everybody a chance to take a breath, which is what we need right now.”

There are still rules and regulations in place to guard against the spread of COVID-19. But now that the Rays have cleared that 85% threshold, they can resume shared activities in the clubhouse like card games and video games; eat at restaurants both indoors and outdoors; stop wearing electronic tracking devices necessary for contact tracing; and lose the masks in the dugout and bullpen.

Manager Kevin Cash pointed to the lack of masks in the dugout as the biggest change for the club and praised head athletic trainer Joe Benge and assistant athletic trainer Mike Sandoval, their COVID-19 compliance officer, for their work to keep the team safe throughout the pandemic.

“That job, it's a pretty thankless job. Certainly the last year and a half, what [Sandoval] has done, it should be a special day for him,” Cash said. “Obviously, we've got to keep adhering to the protocols and guidelines that are in place, but we're so fortunate to have Mike and Joe that have kind of led us and stayed on top of things from Day 1 of all of this pandemic.”

Around the horn

• Ji-Man Choi, who exited Monday’s game early due to soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, was back in the Rays' lineup on Tuesday as the designated hitter. Cash said Choi might be off on Wednesday with Tampa Bay slated to face Kansas City lefty Mike Minor.

• Infielder Mike Brosseau was available off the bench on Tuesday night after a Blue Jays player stepped on his toe and split open a toenail during a play at the plate on Monday.

• The Rays placed No. 3 prospect Brendan McKay, a two-way player in Triple-A, on the seven-day injured list on Tuesday. McKay started six games as Durham’s designated hitter, going 2-for-22 with eight strikeouts, but he will now report to Port Charlotte, Fla., to begin the next phase of his build-up as a pitcher.

• Tyler Glasnow will start Wednesday night against the Royals after striking out only two batters and recording only 11 swinging strikes against the Blue Jays. According to Statcast, Toronto swung at 79.6 percent of Glasnow’s pitches in the zone, a season high against him. Glasnow noted that the Jays “were just kind of on time with everything no matter what I threw” despite what he called “some decent swing-and-miss stuff” on his end, but he didn’t think his pitch-tipping problems had resurfaced.