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Rays’ Blake Snell’s first step toward return: Not great, not bad

Rays Journal: Snell played catch for the first time since getting a cortisone shot, Whitley has multiple facial fractures.
Tampa Bay Rays' Mike Zunino fouls the ball off during a spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Venice, Fla. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Tampa Bay Rays' Mike Zunino fouls the ball off during a spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Venice, Fla. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) [ ELISE AMENDOLA | AP ]
Published Mar. 4, 2020|Updated Mar. 4, 2020

NORTH PORT — Tuesday was the first day top Rays lefty starter Blake Snell was going to test his sore, inflamed and recently cortisone-injected left elbow by playing catch.

And that’s about all it was, the first of several steps to see if the issue is indeed behind Snell and to start the timetable to determine how much of the beginning of the regular season he will miss.

Snell threw 20 fastballs on flat ground at the Port Charlotte complex to pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who said the ball came out of Snell’s hand well.

“He said it felt exactly what he was expecting to feel,’’ Snyder said.

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Manager Kevin Cash used the word “fine” to describe the report he got.

“Felt good. I don’t think great. Not bad. But he’ll throw (again Wednesday),’’ Cash said, adding “they’re all going through something right now getting ramped up, so not overly concerned.’’

The plan is for Snell, who said the spot where he had bone chips removed last July felt “super sore” in the days after his Feb. 26 spring debut, to play catch at increasing distances Wednesday and Thursday, and if all is well to throw off the mound as soon as Friday. If that also goes well he could return to game action Sunday or Monday, and potentially miss only the first week of the regular season.

Facial fractures for Whitley

Minor-league outfielder Garrett Whitley sustained multiple facial fractures from being by a foul ball while sitting on the bench during Monday’s game in Sarasota. The Rays were waiting for the report from a specialist, but surgery seems likely, with the potential for Whitley to be sidelined well into May.

Whitley, 22, was the Rays’ 2015 first-round pick, but his progress has already been slowed by injury, including missing all of 2018 due to a shoulder problem. He played last season with advanced Class A Charlotte, hitting .226 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs.

“Pretty unfortunate for him, (a guy) who’s dealt with injuries, a guy that we think really highly of,’’ Cash said. “And then just the freakiness of how it happened is disappointing.’’

Cash talked briefly with Whitley on Monday night after Whitley got home from the hospital. “He was in an OK spot,’’ he said. “I think he was just frustrated with the amount of injuries that he’s taken on over the last couple seasons.’’

Alvarado sharp again

Jose Alvarado wasn’t as sharp overall as his dazzling outing Saturday, but impressed by throwing strikes when he needed to in an inning Tuesday. He got Austin Riley and Johan Camargo swinging at full-count two-seam fastballs, then Yonder Alonso to bounce out. No radar gun readings were posted, but catcher Mike Zunino said the velocity was there. “I’m very excited because I’m feeling my power again, the same in spring training 2019,’’ Alvarado said.

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Game details: Rays 5, Braves 2

Lefty starter Josh Fleming, who reached Triple-A in 2019, drew praise from Cash and Zunino for his two shutout innings, with a Ryan Yarbrough-style approach. … Shane McClanahan, the USF product, impressed again, striking out three in the eighth. “He’s filthy,’’ Cash said. “I’m a big fan of that guy.’’ … A one-out walk and four straight singles, including one by backup catcher candidate Chris Herrmann, sparked a four-run eighth for the Rays (6-4-2). … Zunino said it was good to catch up with former Mariners teammate and ace Felix Hernandez, who worked four innings in his bid for a spot in Atlanta’s rotation but “it’s a little weird facing him.’’

Miscellany

Brendan McKay, slowed earlier by shoulder stiffness, is set for his game debut Friday. .. Brent Honeywell threw his second bullpen session in his recovery from a second elbow surgery and, per Snyder, was "better than he was (Friday),’’ again throwing 15 fastballs. … With minor-league camp opening this week, first cuts are likely coming soon. … Individual size bottles of hand sanitizer were placed in each player’s locker as part of the coronavirus precautions. … Brandon Lowe said his offseason home in the Nashville area was not affected by the tornadoes. … The Rays face former coaches turned managers the next three games: Charlie Montoyo, Blue Jays; Derek Shelton, Pirates; Rocco Baldelli, Twins.

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