PORT CHARLOTTE — There was another talented, celebrated and rich left-hander making news for the Rays on Thursday besides the newly extended Blake Snell.
Brendan McKay, the 2017 first-round pick most known for his desire to be a two-way player, got to pitch against big-league hitters for the first time in working the first two innings of an 8-1 win over the Braves.
And McKay made quite the impression, striking out four, including Atlanta front-liners Ender Inciarte (curveball) and Ozzie Albies (fastball), though allowing a homer to Austin Riley. “It was a different experience, obviously, but it felt great," said McKay, who pitched, and hit, at Class A last year. “Learned a lot of stuff from talking to the pitching coaches up there, (catcher Mike) Zunino talking about how to attack hitters. … It was fun."
McKay admitted he was a bit nervous, intentionally not looking at the lineup to know he’d be facing ahead of time, but felt he measured up well. “If you can get outs at any level it shows you’ve got the ability to it," he said.
Zunino was impressed: “He’s got excellent stuff. Was able to talk to him a little bit afterward and just sort of tell him what I thought of it. I thought he was excellent, very poised, very polished, being only, what, a year and some change out of college? I think the upside is extremely high with him.”
Brandon Lowe celebrated his new $24 million guaranteed contract with a three-run opposite field homer, and prospect Nate Lowe, of no relation and the more standard pronunciation, also hit a three-run homer in the win over Atlanta. … Ryan Yarbrough looked sharp working a spring-high 2 2/3 innings. … The other Rays squad played the Red Sox at Fort Myers, with bullpen candidates Hunter Wood, Adam Kolarek and Emilio Pagan all in action. All three allowed runs as the Rays trailed 5-0 early.
* Third baseman Matt Duffy said his previously sore left hamstring felt good though didn’t play well, striking out three times in his first game since Feb. 28 and second of the spring. He is hoping to ready for Thursday’s opener but said he knows he needs to “be honest” and not hurt the team.
* The players have their annual meeting with union chief Tony Clark and staff Friday morning.
* The Rays said tickets for the opener remain only “in select seating areas,” announced Broadway actor Jessica Phillips as the anthem singer and, among other changes at the Trop, said gates will open only 90 minutes before all games (expect opening day, two hours), rather than two hours on weekends in the past.