OAKLAND -- The singular goal of every pitcher is to prevent runs, and in his latest start, Blake Snell did just that. The path Snell took to achieve that goal of run prevention, however, requires much deeper examination.
In one of the stranger starts of his career, Snell worked out of four consecutive high-stress jams to limit the damage to a lone run across five innings in the Padres’ 8-1 win over the A’s on Tuesday at Oakland Coliseum. It wasn’t exactly how the left-hander envisioned his start unfolding, but the end product was mildly encouraging nonetheless.
“I thought it was a very good outing for him, and certainly one we can build on going forward,” said manager Jayce Tingler.
In each of the first four innings, Oakland put a runner in scoring position with less than two outs. And in each of the first four innings, Snell worked out of trouble, escaping every tough spot and defying the run expectancy odds. Appropriately enough, the only run that Snell allowed came by way of Starling Marte’s solo home run in the fifth inning. All in all, Snell held the A’s hitless in 10 at-bats with a runner in scoring position, while being the beneficiary of some quick offense against A's lefty Sean Manaea.
Along with escaping trouble, the other defining feature of Snell’s outing was his usage of the fastball. Snell threw 76 fastballs, the second-most he’s thrown in a single start in his career. Those fastballs accounted for 72.3 percent of Snell’s pitches, the fourth-highest percentage of fastballs Snell has thrown in an outing as well.
“I think it’s important for Blake to establish that,” Tingler said. “Not only to establish the fastball, but just establish the aggressiveness.”
Being aggressive and putting hitters on their heels became a necessity for Snell as Oakland applied pressure from the get-go.
Two batters into Snell’s night, the A’s looked primed to score. Mark Canha led off the first with a single before Marte perfectly executed a hit-and-run and legged out a hustle double, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Snell held firm, retiring the next three batters and ending the inning.
In the next frame, Oakland loaded the bases with one out by way of Josh Harrison’s single and Matt Chapman and Elvis Andrus drawing back-to-back walks. This time, Snell navigated his escape thanks to right fielder Wil Myers, who threw out Harrison at the plate with a perfect throw on a fly ball off the bat of Canha, resulting in an inning-ending double play.
In the third inning, the A’s threatened again. And for a third straight inning, Snell got out of it. Marte led off the inning with a single, stole second base, then advanced to third on a groundout. Snell struck out Jed Lowrie, then got Yan Gomes to fly out.
Fourth inning? More of the same. Ramón Laureano doubled and stole third with one out, giving Oakland another runner-on-third-with-one-out situation. Snell escaped. Four-for-four.
“I think there’s just the mindset of when they got on third, I’m just like, ‘They’re not scoring. I’m not doing this anymore,’” Snell said.
“Blake just kept continuing to put the gas pedal on and making them make decisions,” said catcher Austin Nola, who had four hits in the win. “I think that’s where you want to be. You want to put hitters on the defensive in those situations and he did a great job of that tonight.”
Working out of all those jams resulted in a high workload, and after allowing a two-out walk to Lowrie in the fifth inning, Snell’s pitch count stood at 99. Tingler came out to the mound for a chat, but gave him the opportunity to finish the frame and be in line for the win.
“I wanted Blake to finish that fifth inning,” Tingler said. “The team wanted him to finish that inning, and fortunately, he got it done right there.”
Strictly from the perspective of preventing runs, it was a decent night. But both Snell and Tingler admitted that the southpaw needs to be sharper, to continue to make necessary adjustments. And in the grand scheme of the season, how far San Diego can go will partially hinge on whether Snell can inch toward his old form.
The Padres were unable to further bolster their starting rotation at the Deadline, and with Chris Paddack on the injured list and Dinelson Lamet going to the bullpen, more responsibility falls on Snell’s shoulders to provide quality innings.
The collective baseball world has seen what the best version of Snell can be. San Diego was enticed enough with Snell’s resume with the Rays to pay a premium for his services. And with the regular season’s finish line inching closer and closer, San Diego needs Snell to be at the peak of his powers.