Two weeks from Opening Day, Rays pitcher Emilio Pagan has entered sandbox mode, taking advantage of the last bit of a relaxed spring atmosphere to toy with his arsenal.

“I’m pleased with (my breaking ball),” Pagan said. “I think today went really well. They were swinging early initially so I didn’t have a chance to throw too many curve balls, but my cutter/fastball command was good, force contact and see what happens after that.”

Now’s the time to experiment before things get real.

Facing Phillies catcher Rob Brantley in a 4-3 loss on Thursday, Pagan went to two backdoor cutters and then a fastball high before Brantley got a single. He said maybe next time he’ll try a curveball down in the zone or a change-up away.

Mixing up his throws and sequencing his pitches is the ultimate goal as he prepares for the season.

“Having a new pitch and seeing how it plays off what’s best,” Pagan said. “I feel great, I feel strong. I’m ready to go. Now’s the time to play with it and see what works for me.”

Pagan pitched two innings, allowing one hit with one strikeout. He wanted to go back out for the third inning, but was pleased with his two solid innings.

Rays manager Kevin Cash agreed and noted he has a potential place among the openers. Diego Castillo followed Pagan, allowing a run off a Nick Williams’ RBI-double.

“Another good outing, he’s had a good spring,” Cash said of Pagan. “We knew what we were getting when we acquired him, but at the same time to see that backed up. He comes right after hitters, the breaking balls seemed like they played well. Diego followed and looked good with a lot of power.”

The Rays defense held strong for the majority of the outing — three of the Phillies’ four runs came off homers.

In the second, Phillies infielder Phil Gosselin snuck a ground ball nearly past second, but Rays shortstop Willie Adames snagged it and threw to first where Ji-man Choi dug it out of the dirt to end the inning.

“It’s awesome,” Pagan said. “Our defense is special. Very encouraging to see that. Those guys work their butts off everyday to make plays like that.”

Rays catcher Mike Zunino hit lead-off Thursday and smashed a homer over the left field wall for three runs in the fifth. That was the Rays only runs of the day.

“He’s a strong guy,” Cash said. “I don’t know if he’ll be hitting lead off too often, but now we know he can do it and produce.”

The Phillies’ travel squad belted two more homers in the seventh and eighth innings. Tampa Bay hosts the Tigers today at 1:05 p.m.

Email Jacob Hoag at jacob.hoag@yoursun.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJacobHoag.

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