For much of the last month, the Rays have been besieged with bad news on the injury front. But manager Kevin Cash had some encouraging updates to share before Tampa Bay’s series opener against Oakland on Monday at Tropicana Field.
For one, first baseman Ji-Man Choi is getting closer to game action. Choi reported to the Rays’ alternate training site on Monday, and he will hit in simulated games in Port Charlotte, Fla. He’ll return to St. Petersburg this weekend to work out with the team. Then, he’s expected to join Tampa Bay’s Triple-A Durham affiliate.
Durham’s season is scheduled to begin on May 4 in Memphis, Tenn. If all goes well, Choi will be a part of the Triple-A club’s Opening Day roster to make up for all the time he lost to a right knee injury during Spring Training. Ideally, Choi will get about 30-35 at-bats in games while building up toward a regular-season workload.
Choi only played in five games this spring due to recurring soreness in his right knee. His knee bothered him during the workout phase of Spring Training, required a cortisone shot on March 13 and eventually necessitated surgery to remove loose bodies on March 31. At the time, the Rays said their goal was for Choi to return to game action in four to five weeks.
Yoshi Tsutsugo was the Rays’ Opening Day first baseman in Choi’s absence, but lately, most of the playing time there has gone to Yandy Díaz, who has started 16 of Tampa Bay’s first 23 games at first base.
In parts of three seasons with the Rays, Choi has hit .257/.359/.461 with 30 homers and 106 RBIs in 218 games. His production dipped last season, when he posted a .230/.331/.410 slash line, but Tampa Bay was counting on him to bounce back and be a big part of the lineup this year.
Pitcher injury updates
• Reliever Pete Fairbanks (right rotator cuff strain) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday, at which point the Rays should have a better understanding of his timetable to return. Cash said the club is “very encouraged” by Fairbanks’ progress, and the right-hander seems to be ahead of schedule.
• Left-hander Cody Reed (left thumb weakness) won’t come off the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, the first day he’s eligible to return, but Cash said he expects the reliever to have a “fairly quick turnaround” once he begins his throwing program following a Botox injection to address his injury.
• Right-hander Collin McHugh (low back strain) “bounced back [and] felt good” after throwing a bullpen session, Cash said, and McHugh threw off the mound again on Monday. He is eligible to come off the 10-day IL on Wednesday.
Around the horn
• Right-hander Luis Patiño remained on the Rays’ roster Monday after making his Tampa Bay debut in the team’s 1-0 loss to Toronto on Sunday afternoon. Patiño pitched 2 2/3 hitless innings as a multi-inning opener, working once through the Blue Jays’ lineup before giving way to lefty bulk-inning pitcher Josh Fleming. Cash said the Rays will look to utilize the 21-year-old in a similar role moving forward, making him available to pitch out of the bullpen if needed.
• On Sunday, Patiño became the fourth-youngest pitcher at the time of his Rays debut behind Dan Wheeler (Sept. 1, 1999), Scott Kazmir (Aug. 23, 2004) and Chad Gaudin (Aug. 1, 2003). He is also the fifth pitcher to make his Tampa Bay debut before his 22nd birthday, joining those three starters and José Alvarado (May 3, 2017).
• Looking to spark their lineup, the Rays moved Randy Arozarena into the leadoff spot on Monday for the first time this season. Arozarena hit first three times last season. Díaz moved down to the second spot in the order.
“Just mix it up, just trying to find something. A slight shakeup, get Randy up there [with] a couple more at-bats to get his timing going,” Cash said. “Yandy has been putting the ball in play. If [Arozarena] can get on base, maybe that creates a little action for us.”
• Monday was “Big Bopper” Joey Wendle’s 31st birthday. He was in the lineup, batting ninth and playing third base against A’s lefty Sean Manaea -- his third start in the last four games against left-handed starters.