Tampa Bay starting pitcher Blake Snell made it clear Saturday — he’s in no hurry to do too much in his return to the Rays’ rotation.
The 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner, Snell will make his season debut Sunday afternoon as the club’s three-game home series in St. Petersburg, Fla., concludes against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Despite recording just five hits for the second straight game, the home side evened the series Saturday behind Brandon Lowe‘s eighth-inning two-run triple and a strong pitching performance by starter Ryan Yarbrough and four relievers.
The left-handed Snell, who beat the Houston Astros and Justin Verlander last year as the Opening Day starter, has concerns about his elbow, which underwent arthroscopic surgery one year ago this weekend.
He did return to pitch the final month of the season but said he is being cautious with the elbow.
“I don’t want to rush myself,” Snell told reporters Saturday. “I feel very healthy, and I’m happy about that. For me, I still feel like I’m building, getting to where I want to be.”
The 27-year-old hurler plans to work 2-4 innings his first time out.
He was 0-1 with a 2.51 ERA in three starts against the Blue Jays last season. In 11 career starts against them, Snell is 4-3 with a 2.88 ERA and boasts 66 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said outfielder Austin Meadows is back playing baseball at the team’s spring training facility in Port Charlotte, Fla., but added there is no timeline for a return after his positive test for COVID-19 in early July.
The club is also down one reliever in its bullpen after Diego Castillo was placed on the paternity list Friday.
Expected to be one of the key right-handers used in high-leverage situations, Castillo was replaced on the 30-man roster by infielder Daniel Robertson. Other righty options out of the bullpen are Chaz Roe, Pete Fairbanks and Nick Anderson.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said before his club’s first loss that pitcher Thomas Hatch would make his major league debut in Sunday’s matinee if the right-hander was not used Saturday.
The Oklahoma native was not one of the four pitchers Montoyo turned to in the tight contest, so Hatch will make his first appearance before the Blue Jays go to Washington to start a series with the defending World Series champion Nationals.
The first two games at Nationals Park will be hosted by Washington, while the following pair on Wednesday and Thursday will be considered home games for the Blue Jays as Sahlen Stadium, the team’s new home park in Buffalo, is being upgraded.
Hatch, 25, bypassed potential No. 3 starters Anthony Kay and Ryan Borucki with the assignment. Kay will likely start the first game in Washington, and Nate Pearson, the organization’s top-rated prospect, is looming on the horizon and will eventually join the rotation.
Acquired from the Chicago Cubs last season for David Phelps, Hatch caught the eye of Montoyo in four spring training games in March.
“He was impressive,” Montoyo said in the first training camp in Dunedin, Fla. “That’s a good arm. He’s one of the reasons I like this camp — arms like that. It makes me happy to see an arm like that.”
–Field Level Media