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Snell brings revamped slider to first live BP

Morton throws 30-pitch live BP; Lowe gets reps at third
@juanctoribio
February 20, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Now that he’s fully healthy, Blake Snell has had a level of confidence and focus since arriving to camp, and his first live batting practice on Thursday drew rave reviews. “He looked awesome; he looked really good,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “I think he put

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Now that he’s fully healthy, Blake Snell has had a level of confidence and focus since arriving to camp, and his first live batting practice on Thursday drew rave reviews.

“He looked awesome; he looked really good,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “I think he put some weight in his lower half to get stronger and it looked pretty easy today.”

Snell threw 30 pitches on Thursday against Ji-Man Choi, Randy Arozarena and Willy Adames. The Rays left-hander threw all four of his pitches in his first live batting practice session, but the emphasis was on controlling the slider, which he threw eight times.

“Happy with the progression of the slider,” Snell said. “That’s something that I wanted to focus on. It’s a good step in the right direction, but overall just happy to see hitters, happy to feel that feeling again. Looking forward to the next one.”

Last season, Snell threw the slider just 6.7 percent of the time, the fewest among his four pitches. Snell threw the slider mostly against left-handed hitters, but the results favored the hitters. Opposing hitters finished with a .320 average against Snell’s sliders in 2019, but there was also some bad luck involved. However, the expected batting average (xBA), which measures the likelihood of a batted ball becoming a hit, dropped to .208 against Snell’s slider.

When Snell has his slider working, it gives him four plus-pitches to work with. During his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2018, Snell had plenty of success with the slider. Opposing hitters finished with a .096 average against the pitch and the expected batting average wasn’t much better, ending the year at just .169.

“It’ll make the changeup more effective, the fastball more effective,” Snell said of using the slider more. “I can just use it off my misses a little bit better. It’s just getting comfortable with it and if I start throwing it more I can really do that.”

While Snell said he will continue to focus on his slider throughout the spring, the left-hander said he “felt good” after his first live batting practice session, which is unusual for him at this stage of spring.

“Coming into this spring, there’s a lot more focus,” Snell said. “I’m happy with where I’m at. … For today being the first day with batters, that was better than I anticipated because my first live [BP] is always pretty bad. For it to be good, and to feel comfortable with hitters in the box, that’s exciting.”

Around the horn

• After Thursday’s workout, Cash said Charlie Morton “kind of looked like midseason form” after his 30-pitch live batting practice session.

“He buckles you with some of those breaking balls even though you’re not in the box,” Cash said.

• After shedding 20 pounds over the offseason, Nate Lowe continued to get work at third base, this time with Cash and the rest of the coaching staff watching on.

“He looked really good,” Cash said. “Looked way different than he did last year. … You could tell that he’s worked hard. I know he worked with some infielders -- [Francisco] Lindor was over there -- he looked impressive.”

Dylan Cozens might’ve had the best swing of the day, hitting an opposite field home run off a Nick Anderson curveball during live batting practice.

Up next

The Rays will have a short workout on Friday, which is their last before games begin on Saturday. Trevor Richards will be the starting pitcher in Saturday’s opener against the Red Sox, and Ryan Yarbrough will start the home opener against the Yankees on Sunday.

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