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Notes: Snell 'way ahead'; here comes Wander

@juanctoribio
February 26, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- After experiencing injuries for the first time in his career, Blake Snell made some changes over the offseason. He hired a chef to help with his nutrition, he got accustomed to going to sleep earlier, and he arrived in St. Petersburg about a month earlier than

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- After experiencing injuries for the first time in his career, Blake Snell made some changes over the offseason. He hired a chef to help with his nutrition, he got accustomed to going to sleep earlier, and he arrived in St. Petersburg about a month earlier than usual in order to get ready for the season.

The changes have led to a more confident and motivated Snell, and he showed it on Wednesday, tossing a scoreless first inning in a 10-8 loss to the Twins at Charlotte Sports Park.

“Overall, first start, I’m happy with it,” Snell said. “I liked the consistency of the pitches, and I liked the confidence and poise I had. Usually I’m pretty lost the first couple of games, just ‘cause I haven’t done it, but I felt a lot more in control and a lot more confident. So I felt really good about that.”

Snell threw 21 pitches, 15 for strikes on Wednesday, including a four-pitch strikeout against Minnesota’s top prospect Royce Lewis that included a four-seam fastball, a changeup and a curveball. Snell utilized all four of his pitches, but he did say he was frustrated that he didn’t throw a slider against a right-hander -- something he wants to focus on during the spring.

Last season, Snell pitched just three innings during Spring Training due to an illness and scheduling. This year, Snell wants to pitch more, which he believes will help him once the regular season begins.

“I’m way ahead of where I was last year in spring,” Snell said. “Last spring, I just wasn’t as comfortable as I am right now. I feel way more ahead, I feel more advanced. I can throw the ball in the zone, out of the zone. I feel a lot better this year than I did last year, for sure.”

Alvarado’s return to the mound

José Alvarado made his first appearance since enduring a season-ending left elbow injury on Aug. 24. Alvarado retired just one hitter and struggled with his command in his first Grapefruit League outing. The left-hander threw 27 pitches, 12 for strikes, and allowed two runs while striking out one.

But despite the results, Alvarado said that he was “so happy” about making his return to the mound and that he’s confident that his command will improve as he continues to pitch more throughout the spring.

“I got close to almost six months without seeing a hitter and not pitching in a game,” Alvarado said. “I’m feeling great because I’m feeling the power in my arm. A little bit too quick and too early over my right arm, but everything is good. I’m feeling good.”

Wander Watch

Wander Franco, the top prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, is scheduled to play in his first Spring Training game in Thursday’s split-squad game against the Tigers at Charlotte Sports Park. The plan is for Franco to replace Willy Adames at shortstop midway through the game.

Franco slashed .339/.408/.464 in 52 games with Class A Advanced Charlotte, skyrocketing to the top of the MLB Pipeline rankings. The 18-year-old will also be in the starting lineup in Friday’s game against the Nationals at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Rays manager Kevin Cash has watched Franco play in instructional leagues at Tropicana Field and on television, but Thursday will be the first time he’ll get to watch the 18-year-old live in a game.

“We’re looking forward to watching him play,” Cash said. “You read about him, you hear about him. Our staff raves about him in player development all for good reason -- now it’s our turn to not watch him on TV, and we get to watch him in person."

Up next
The Rays have their first split-squad day of the spring on Thursday, and Tyler Glasnow will be making his first Grapefruit League start against the Tigers at Charlotte Sports Park. Franco is listed as a reserve and will likely play in his first Spring Training game.

Aaron Slegers will get the start for the Rays in Tampa against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The full lineup vs. the Tigers:

Austin Meadows, LF
Hunter Renfroe, RF
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, DH
Yandy Díaz, 3B
José Martínez, 1B
Kevin Kiermaier, CF
Mike Zunino, C
Joey Wendle, 2B
Willy Adames, SS

The full lineup vs. Yankees:

Manuel Margot, RF
Brandon Lowe, LF
Daniel Robertson, 2B
Ji-Man Choi, 1B
Nate Lowe, 3B
Ryan LaMarre, CF
Michael Perez, C
Ronaldo Hernandez, DH
Taylor Walls, SS

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.