PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- After injuries limited him to 23 starts last season, Blake Snell is keen on having a bounce-back season and earning his way back into the American League Cy Young Award conversation.
“I’m excited to go,” Snell said. “There’s a lot that has to happen before I really know how I’m going to feel heading into this season, but I would definitely say I’m motivated.”
Snell said the biggest key heading into the 2020 season is his health. A toe injury in May forced him to miss two starts and left elbow surgery to remove loose bodies in July sidelined him for nearly two months before he returned on a limited basis in September.
Last season was Snell’s first significant experience dealing with injuries, and he called being hurt “annoying.” In order to try and stay on the field, Snell hired a personal chef -- who also works with NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. -- to change his diet. He also said he isn’t staying up late playing and streaming video games, which should help his sleeping pattern moving forward.
The changes have already started to pay dividends.
“I’ve lost 13 pounds, but I feel stronger,” Snell said. “Sleeping is easier, waking up is easier, and I’m not eating anything bad. I almost felt like [the] loose bodies was because of lack of sleep, bad eating. So I wanted to clean it up to see how I felt.”
Now that he’s fully healthy heading into Spring Training, the question is whether or not Snell can return to the same level of dominance that won him the 2018 AL Cy Young Award. The left-hander believes he can.
“I think I can be a better Blake Snell, especially from last year,” Snell said. “2018 Blake, I mean. From a maturity standpoint and even with stuff, I still think I’m as good [as], if not better than that guy, but it all depends [on] if I stay healthy. If I can stay in my rhythm, if I can do that, then I’m pretty excited for what I can do.”
Despite posting a 4.29 ERA last season, the numbers back up Snell’s claim. The whiff rate on all four of his pitches showed improvement in 2019, with the changeup showing the most drastic development, producing a 46.7 percent whiff rate as opposed to his 31 percent clip in ‘18.
Snell’s expected batting average also illustrated that he did, in fact, improve last season and was mostly a victim of bad luck. While the numbers point to a potential bounce-back year for Snell, it’s up to him to back it up.
“I was hurt for two months, and I won’t get those months back,” Snell said. “But I learned a lot from them and coming into this spring, I made sure I was on top of [everything].”
Inside Rays camp
• Tyler Glasnow, Yonny Chirinos, Diego Castillo, Ryan Yarbrough, Jalen Beeks, Colin Poche and Trevor Richards were some of the notable pitchers who threw a bullpen session on Wednesday. Of the group, manager Kevin Cash said that left-handed pitcher Colin Poche and left-handed prospect Shane McClanahan impressed him the most.
“We know Colin really well,” Cash said. “McClanahan, I watched him throw a couple of times at the Trop, but he has a chance to be special.”
• Some of the position players that have stood out over the last couple of days include José Martínez, Dylan Cozens, Willy Adames, Brian O’Grady and Mike Brosseau. Martínez spent time working on his defense at first base with Rodney Linares on Thursday.
“[Martínez] likes to hit,” Cash said. “Whether he’s hitting off a tee, flips or batting practice, it’s just so loose and easy. … It looks like he just gets in the box and has fun.”
• During his bullpen session on Wednesday, Poche was working on his slider, which is projected to be his go-to secondary pitch this year. Fastball command will be a big point of emphasis for Poche, but there’s a conscious effort to try and improve and develop a second pitch.
• Infielder Daniel Robertson arrived at camp on Thursday, putting the Rays at 53 of 65 players in attendance. Free-agent signing Yoshi Tsutsugo is scheduled to arrive at camp on Friday.