Snell still 'feeling his way' as Rays reunion goes awry

April 14th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- had been looking forward to making his first start at Tropicana Field as a visiting player, but it turned out to be a rather forgettable homecoming for the reigning National League Cy Young winner.

Snell, who spent his first five seasons with the Rays before being traded to the Padres in December 2020, was roughed up for a career-high-matching seven runs over four innings in his return to Tampa Bay, culminating in a 9-4 loss for the Giants on Sunday afternoon.

After dropping two of three to the Rays, San Francisco (6-10) has now lost nine of its last 13 games and has yet to win a road series this year.

Snell surrendered six hits, including a pair of homers to Amed Rosario and René Pinto, while walking two and striking out four in his second appearance for the Giants, who signed the 31-year-old left-hander to a two-year, $62 million deal on March 19.

“It's not often that you see him get hit hard,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’ll give up some walks and get nicked up a little bit, but it’s rare that you see him get hit like that. I think that’s more kind of [him] just feeling his way.”

Snell has been a slow starter in the past -- he ended last April with a 5.48 ERA over his first five starts -- but Melvin said he believes the early stumbles this year likely stem from Snell’s truncated Spring Training. Because he signed late, Snell didn’t get to pitch in Cactus League games and iron out the kinks against big league competition like he usually would.

“I mean, that’s probably why the location is bad,” said Snell, who has allowed 10 runs over seven innings (12.86 ERA) in his first two starts of the year. “But I just need to get better. No excuses. I can’t use the spring thing anymore. Once I start locating the ball better, I’ll get better results. But until then, nothing’s going to change until I start commanding the zone.”

The Rays wasted little time jumping on Snell, who gave up three runs in a rocky 26-pitch first inning. Yandy Díaz led off with a double and scored on Randy Arozarena’s RBI single to tie the game, 1-1.

Snell then hung a 3-2 changeup that Amed Rosario drove just over the left-field wall for a go-ahead, two-run homer. Rosario’s blast snapped Snell’s streak of 44 consecutive innings without allowing a homer, which had been the second-longest active run in the Majors behind Mets closer Edwin Díaz (53 innings).

“The changeup to Rosario, if I’m down-and-away like I should be and not up-middle, it’s a completely different at-bat,” Snell said. “I could go on and on. But the location needs to get better.”

The Rays extended their lead to 4-1 on Isaac Paredes’ RBI single in the third and then broke the game open in the fourth, when Snell issued a pair of walks that set the table for No. 9 hitter Pinto’s three-run blast to straightaway center field.

“I'm glad that we got Blake in start two,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “We know how talented he is. But look, it was good for us. That's a really talented pitcher, one of our game's best. The command might not have been there, but the stuff certainly looked about the same. He was throwing hard, had a good changeup, good separation, so we were fortunate to get him today."

Snell departed after throwing 78 pitches, only 48 for strikes, and didn’t have many positive takeaways other than using the frustration as extra motivation to improve.

“I get mad when I don’t do good,” Snell said.

Despite the shaky start to his Giants tenure, Melvin said he’s confident Snell will find his form once he gets more dialed in.

“It really is just about getting a foothold out there and getting a good outing under his belt,” Melvin said. “The velo is kind of playing the same. But he's forcing himself to use different pitches in different counts, so obviously the numbers would suggest [it was] not his best outing. But move on to the next. One of these starts he’s going to find it and find his footing.”