LOS ANGELES -- Blake Snell was excited. He was excited about getting back on the mound in a Major League game, and he was looking forward to contributing as the Rays look to clinch a postseason berth over the last 12 days of the regular season.
Even with all the excitement, however, it was important for Snell and the Rays to temper their expectations as the left-hander had his first “bump day” -- which is what Snell calls his start day -- since undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his left elbow on July 29.
Snell will have some work to do over the next few weeks in order to be full-go for a potential postseason run, but Tuesday’s outing in the Rays’ 7-5 loss to the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium was a big step in the right direction for the left-hander, as he struck out four in two perfect innings.
Tampa Bay will also need to get in the postseason. With their second straight loss, the Rays have only a half-game lead for the second American League Wild Card over the Indians, who beat the Tigers. The Rays are two games behind the A’s for the top Wild Card with 10 games remaining.
“I was happy with it. Happy with how I felt, happy with how I attacked,” Snell said of his return outing. “Overall I’m happy with it. Definitely a lot to learn and build on. I really enjoy pitching here. I really enjoy the environment. Getting ready for it was pretty easy. Good game to continue to move forward.”
On his first pitch in a Major League game since late July, Snell delivered a 95 mph fastball for a strike against David Freese. He proceeded to strike out Freese, setting the tone for an impressive return to the mound.
Snell retired all six batters he faced, throwing 26 pitches, 17 for strikes. He threw 21 four-seam fastballs, recording six swing-and-misses with the pitch.
“Couldn’t have asked for much more from him,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You always wonder with not getting a large amount of reps how the command's going to be. The power was tremendous, and the fastball command was great. Very encouraged by his performance.”
The plan was to get Snell through two or three innings. When Snell was due up to bat in the third, he was pinch-hit for by Mike Brosseau. Because Snell was at only 26 pitches, he went to the Rays' bullpen and threw 10 more pitches to simulate a third inning.
“It’s good to actually feel like I’m contributing and doing something,” Snell said. “I want to go deeper, I want to get to five innings. But I know it’s going to take time. That’s what I really feel like I can learn a lot and grow and build. For this to be my first start back, I was happy with it.”
Despite a positive start for Snell, Tampa Bay's bullpen and defense couldn't secure a victory.
Left-hander Colin Poche struggled, allowing two runs on a Corey Seager double in the fifth inning that put the Dodgers ahead, 2-1. After a Ji-Man Choi solo home run tied it in the sixth, a costly error started a Los Angeles rally in the seventh.
Right-hander Peter Fairbanks appeared to get Max Muncy to ground out to first base on a routine play, but some indecision by Choi and a late cover by Fairbanks created a mess for Tampa Bay, leading to Choi delivering a late toss and Fairbanks not securing it. The error was the beginning of what turned into a deciding five-run seventh for the Dodgers.
“I think [Choi] made a good play, a good toss,” Fairbanks said. “Then, I took my eye off for one second and looked like someone that hadn’t done a million [pitchers' fielding practice] in a half-field in Spring Training and dropped it. … If I catch the ball, he was out. I didn’t catch the ball, so that’s on me.”
After the error, Fairbanks allowed a double to Enrique Hernández. That set up Seager to deliver with his second two-run double to put the Dodgers up, 4-2. Gavin Lux and A.J. Pollock added RBI singles, while Cody Bellinger delivered the final blow with an RBI double off right-hander Cole Sulser to extend the lead to 7-2.
“Whenever pitchers make errors, I think there’s some stupid stat about a lot of runs being given up, and I managed to do that this evening,” Fairbanks said. “I fell behind, and when you fall behind, hitters tend to be better. It’s where I was, not in the zone. Got behind in counts and whenever that happens, you put yourself at a disadvantage, and that’s what I did."
The Rays' offense battled back in the eighth as Travis d’Arnaud singled in Austin Meadows, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games. Then, Jesús Aguilar added a two-run home run to cut the deficit to 7-5. But Kenley Jansen struck out Willy Adames swinging to end the threat.
“That’s a good ball team,” Fairbanks said. “But we’ll be back tomorrow.”