Despite 'minor' soreness, Choi nearing return

Rays first baseman expected to be activated from injured list soon

May 12th, 2021

First baseman Ji-Man Choi rejoined the Rays before Wednesday’s matchup against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, but Choi wasn’t in the lineup or activated from the 10-day injured list. At least not yet, anyway.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said Choi felt “a little bit of soreness” in his surgically repaired right knee on Wednesday and was seen by Dr. Koco Eaton, who performed Choi's arthroscopic surgery in March. Cash said the team doesn’t consider the latest development a setback, believing it’s “a minor thing” and a matter of “tolerance,” and Choi could be activated soon -- potentially even Thursday -- if his soreness subsides.

“If it doesn't go away, then we'll have to revisit,” Cash said. “But I think, going in, we have to wrap our heads around that there is going to be a little bit of a tolerance to a nagging issue for some time being. It's just not going to feel 100 percent.”

The Rays were not planning to activate Choi on Wednesday night even if he had reported to Tropicana Field with no soreness, Cash said. Choi was set to receive treatment throughout the day Wednesday, and the Rays intend to reevaluate him on Thursday.

One factor in Tampa Bay’s decision to designate first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo for assignment on Tuesday was the impending return of Choi, who has not yet played this season due to knee issues that first arose in Spring Training. Wednesday night would have been an ideal time for his return, as Choi has tormented Cole at the plate in recent years. But with the left-handed hitter not yet ready to go, Yandy Díaz got the start at first base and batted fifth against Cole.

Choi had been on a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham, and it’s possible the travel involved in that -- flying from Florida to Memphis, Tenn., then to Durham, N.C., then back to St. Petersburg -- could have played a part in his soreness. Choi last played on Tuesday, when he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against Jacksonville. Overall, he went 6-for-23 with two doubles, three walks and seven strikeouts in 27 plate appearances over six games.

Injury updates
• Right-hander Michael Wacha (right hamstring tightness) will throw another bullpen session on Thursday after throwing off the mound on Tuesday. Wacha, who is eligible to come off the injured list Thursday, is scheduled to throw 25-30 pitches in that session.

• Cash said catcher Francisco Mejía (left intercostal discomfort) is feeling “significantly better” and has resumed throwing.

• High-leverage reliever Diego Castillo (right groin tightness) remains on schedule to return from the 10-day injured list when eligible on Friday. Cash said he spoke to Castillo on Tuesday after the right-hander threw a bullpen session, and Castillo reported that he felt “really, really good.”

Around the horn
• The Yankees have seven confirmed “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 in their clubhouse, and they held shortstop Gleyber Torres out of the lineup on Wednesday out of an abundance of caution. Cash credited Yankees general manager Brian Cashman for informing Rays GM Erik Neander of the latest regarding their situation, as well as MLB for keeping both clubs in the loop. But Cash said it never reached a point of concern on Tuesday or Wednesday where the Rays were concerned that they wouldn’t play.

“We tried to give our players a little bit of a heads-up, like, ‘Hey, this is what we’re hearing.’ Some is accurate; some is speculation,” Cash said. “Regardless, we owe it to them to be made aware, but everything we finished was with, ‘There’s every intention of playing the game [Tuesday], and the same as [Wednesday].’”

• Backup catcher Kevan Smith pinch-hit against Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning on Tuesday night, clearing Tampa Bay’s bench and putting both catchers in the lineup. So if the Rays had tied the game, where would Smith have played? First base, he said, using Mike Brosseau’s glove. Smith actually did a little work at first at the alternate training site in Port Charlotte, Fla.

“The only two balls I got the whole time were like 105 [mph] missiles off the bat, just like launched right by me, and I tried to block one of them like a catcher,” Smith said. “I’ll probably start working on it a little more just seeing how [Cash] likes to utilize the bench here.”

• Triple-A Durham’s game on Wednesday was postponed due to inclement weather and will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Thursday, starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.

• Heriberto Hernandez, one of three prospects acquired from the Rangers in the Nate Lowe trade, homered for the third time in four games for Low-A Charleston on Tuesday. Hernandez, the Rays’ No. 13 prospect per MLB Pipeline, began the season by going 7-for-19 with seven runs scored, five RBIs, six walks and a .538 on-base percentage in six games.