Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) loosens up before pitching in a minor league game Friday, March 22, 2019 at Charlotte Sports Park. Sun Photo by Tom O'Neill

Rays pitcher Blake Snell admitted he came into spring ball just a bit too energized.

But a lot has happened in his few weeks in Port Charlotte.

He's worked on his craft, picked up some new tricks and padded his bank account in the process.

As his first Opening Day start nears, he's comfortable with his spring camp and is ready to push into 2019 and leave his successful 2018 campaign in the rearview.

"I don't really think about the past, it already happened," Snell said. "I just know where I'm at and where I'm headed, that's how I've always been. I feel like I really grew a lot throughout the spring, I learned a lot.

"I came in too excited. There was a lot I had to learn. You get so excited and you don't understand that if you're crazy in the dugout, you're gonna be crazy on the mound."

Snell's first start as the reigning AL Cy Young winner comes against Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros on March 28.

As if making his taking the mound on Opening Day for the first time wasn't enough, facing the guy who finished just behind him in the Cy Young voting doesn't make things any easier.

"Bregman, Altuve, Correa, I have to remember their lineup," Snell said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge against Verlander as well. My first Opening Day, against Verlander? It's a challenge I've been looking forward to since last year. I've had a lot of time to prepare for it, but I'll look at it more tonight."

While the full squad was taking the field, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 at Charlotte Sports Park on Friday, Snell was on the back fields putting in work in a minor league game.

"They had eight lefties in the lineup, I faced a lot of them," Snell said. "That was weird. I did really good. I'm happy with a lot. I'm happy with first-pitch strikes, I'm happy with the way I went down there, I was locked in. I didn't let the minor league game get into my head at all."

Snell said he worked on his change-up to lefties, which he's looking to improve and getting a feel for the different look it can give lefties.

Joining him was third baseman Matt Duffy, who played in both minor league games on the back fields.  He made his return after missing time with a hamstring injury and says he's feeling better.

"I feel good," Duffy said. "Tomorrow's gonna be obviously another big test, how I bounce back from back-to-back days of being on it. I got a good amount in, but the test is tomorrow and seeing how it feels when I wake up."

The biggest challenge at this point for Duffy is getting his timing down, which he says got better as the day went on.

He said there's not really an estimated timetable for when he will feel 100 percent with his timing, it will just click at some point.

"I think it's gonna be better each at-bat, so that's what we're trying to make happen a little quicker," Duffy said. "You kind of just know, I guess. Hitting is funny, you could feel really bad and then take one swing and say, 'That's it, I'm ready.'"

Over at the Ballpark, Tampa Bay got some early runs that took pressure off the defense and helped seal a win in the final home game of the spring.

Outfielder Avisail Garcia singled to left field to score Brandon Lowe, who reached on a single in the first inning.

The Rays got another in the third inning again off a Garcia single that drove in Lowe to make it 2-0. The final run came from Taylor Walls, who scored on a force out in the sixth.

The highlight of the day came from outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who made a leaping grab in center field to rob a double from Pittsburgh's Colin Moran in the fourth.

"I told him it's about time," Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the catch. "We've been waiting to see that."

Pittsburgh led a charge late, scoring runs in the seventh and ninth innings, but Rays pitcher Andrew Kittredge closed out the win.

Wilmer Font earned the win after pitching 1 2/3 innings with no runs on two hits with two strikeouts.

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


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