PORT CHARLOTTE — Top LHP prospect Blake Snell breezed through the first couple of weeks of camp earning raves every time he took the mound.
On Wednesday, the 23-year-old made his first-ever appearance in a major-league spring training game. The results of his inning in the Rays' 6-2 spring-opening loss to the Nationals weren't particularly good, including a three-run homer he gave up on a poorly located changeup. And neither manager Kevin Cash nor Snell could have considered it more of a positive experience.
"Oh my gosh, yes," Cash said. "He left a changeup up, but you definitely know why everybody is excited about him. Just effortlessly throwing 94-96 miles an hour, and it seems like even his misses were kind of intentional where he wanted to go just off the plate. So that was good to get him out there and let him experience that a little bit."
The changeup is typically Snell's best pitch, but he hasn't been pleased with it in camp and made it a priority Wednesday. Seeing what a major-league veteran such as Scott Sizemore can do with a bad one was a good thing, he said.
"I'm learning," Snell said. "It's spring training. None of it really counts, none of it matters. It's all about getting better and learning. I'm working on a changeup, so I have to throw it. If I want to get people out, I know there's certain pitches I can throw in counts to set up and all that.
"But if I don't work on my changeup, when I go into the season, how am I going to get better? I'm not going to be able to trust it, I'm not going to be able to throw it. … I'm trying to find that feel again. That's why I'm throwing it so much now. I wouldn't take it as a negative at all. It's a positive. I'm learning from it."
For the inning, Snell threw 25 pitches (15 strikes), hitting 97 mph while allowing the three runs on three hits and a walk.
PITCHING IN: RHP Jake Odorizzi couldn't have been more pleased with his opening inning, striking out leadoff-batting Trea Turner on a nasty splitter and needing just eight pitches overall. "You couldn't ask for anything better," said Odorizzi, who threw seven pitches in the bullpen afterward. … Another top prospect, RHP Taylor Guerrieri, also made his debut, allowing two runs on three hits, though one was a double on a fly ball that shouldn't have dropped between minor-league OFs Dayron Varona and Johnny Field. … Cash praised LHP Enny Romero for staying on point despite two errors during his first inning, allowing just one unearned run. "The question would be: Does Enny do that last year or does it start to snowball on him?" Cash said. "And to his credit he just stayed out there and kept pumping strikes. So that's really good to see."
SIGNED UP: The Rays renewed the contracts of three of their bigger-name players who are not yet eligible for arbitration: RHP Brad Boxberger, OF Kevin Kiermaier and Odorizzi.
The other 23 players on the 40-man roster in that category of 0-3 years of service time agreed to terms. Though the difference in salary is usually small, since the Rays typically pay all players usually just slightly above the league minimum of $507,500, the decision to not agree to a deal is sometimes made as a matter of principle, leading the team to renew them.
GAME DETAILS: After errors by 2B Nick Franklin (fielding) and C Curt Casali (throwing) led to the run against Romero, the Rays took a 2-1 lead on a double by Desmond Jennings, who missed most of last season with left knee issues. … Knuckleballing RHP Eddie Gamboa struck out two of his three batters. … 1B James Loney, who might be auditioning for a job elsewhere since he doesn't seem to have a spot, singled crisply in his first at-bat.
MISCELLANY: Cash said most regulars initially will play every other day. … The team will have a "mental skills" meeting before today's pregame workout. … OF Steven Souza Jr. (intercostal strain) is making good progress, swinging off a tee and at flipped balls, with plans to play next week.
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Petty Officer Patrick Jackson of the U.S. Navy Seabees embraces his children — Fallon, 5, and Isaiah, 7 — after surprising them by catching the ceremonial first pitch before the Rays' spring opener against the Nationals. The Rays recognized the military with a special tribute to the men and women of Charlotte County.