ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell will be on a tight pitch count Sunday and is unlikely to go more than a few innings. But the Rays left-hander will be back on the mound starting, one bit of familiarity in a season that has been anything but.
“I’m just making sure I’m not rushing into it too much,” Snell said Saturday. “I want to make sure that I’m doing the right things and that I’m very well prepared to finish this sprint of a season strong.”
The 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner said he won’t push himself too far in his season debut, looking to pitch in the two-to-four inning range.
Snell is understandably wary after missing time last season with an injury to his pitching elbow that required surgery last July. He returned in September to pitch in six games at the end of the regular season and into the postseason. He didn’t throw more than 3⅓ innings in any of those appearances. That likely won’t change Sunday against the Blue Jays.
Snell threw 47 pitches Tuesday across two shortened innings and managed to get just four outs in an intrasquad game. He said he felt fine afterward but was a couple of weeks away from how he normally feels to start a season.
Snell was expected to be available for the start of the scheduled regular season in March, before the shutdown occurred due to the coronavirus pandemic. Four months later, Snell, manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder are easing the pitcher back into things.
“We’re very deep across the board, so just talking to Kyle and really just understanding where I’m at,” Snell said. “I’m coming off of the loose bodies (injury), playoffs, all of that going into spring. (I’m) taking a step back because I was trying to push too hard.”
That caution doesn’t necessarily stem from how he feels currently, though. Snell said he thought he would make his season debut Monday or Tuesday against the Braves but didn’t need to push it back any further.
“I threw my bullpen, I felt amazing and I said I don’t need extra days right now,” he said. “I feel the best I have felt.”
Snell said he’s ready to be throwing every fifth day again, adding his discussions with Snyder are what keep him from overexerting himself. The shortened 60-game season puts even more emphasis on having starting pitchers such as Snell available, even if just for a few innings at the outset.
“No secrets, probably that two- or three-inning mark,” Cash said, “and then start his build up from there.”
The sped up Spring 2.0, which Snell called a “quick little summer camp,” didn’t exactly bode well for him easing into things.
“The last thing I want to do is get injured or try to do too much. Knowing myself and the way that I like to compete, I feel like I would just push and push and push,” he said. “So, for this, I’m just trying to take the smart approach.”
Contact Kyle Wood at email@example.com. Follow @Kkylewood.