Snell starts strong before Mets do damage

June 12th, 2021

Blake Snell realized that he was trying to do too much. He realized he was trying to be the greatest thing ever. He realized he was trying way too hard. He realized that the pressure was draining. And he realized that the self-inflicted pressure was unnecessary.

So, he realized it was time to change.

Friday's outing had mixed results.

Snell described his latest performance as frustrating in the Padres’ 3-2 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. The left-hander started off great, but ended up allowing three runs and three walks across four-plus innings. He faced four batters in the fifth, couldn’t get any out and was gone.

For the former Cy Young Award winner, it was a performance that left much to be desired. But Snell feels comfortable. He feels like himself. And he feels like his best starts are ahead.

“With time, I’ve gotten into a good place,” Snell said. “I’ve learned a lot for myself. It’s been good. I feel like now I should take off.”

Snell certainly looked like himself through the first three innings. Besides Jonathan Villar’s swinging bunt, Snell matched Jacob deGrom for three innings. The foundation for a classic pitchers' duel had been built.

But cracks began to form in the fourth. Villar singled, then stole second base. Snell got Francisco Lindor to fly out, but walked James McCann and Pete Alonso on pitches that weren’t particularly close. The Mets had loaded the bases with one out. Snell needed to be perfect to get out of the jam. Turns out, all he needed was one pitch.

Snell took advantage of a hyper-aggressive Dominic Smith, generating a 1-2-3, inning-ending double play. Despite Snell having thrown six straight balls, Smith inadvertently tapped the ball right back to Snell on a check-swing, generating the double play.

The left-hander would have no such luck in the fifth. Kevin Pillar began with a hustle double that Tommy Pham fielded in left-center field. Billy McKinney followed with a double to right field, scoring Pillar. Snell walked José Peraza and was then called for a balk, putting runners on second and third with no outs.

That set the stage for deGrom, the college shortstop-turned-MLB ace who still knows how to swing. With a pair of runners in scoring position, deGrom coolly slapped a single into left field. McKinney and Peraza scored easily. At the hands of his fellow pitcher, Snell’s night was over.

What changed after the third inning? Snell lost his fastball. He only generated a surprisingly low nine combined called strikes and whiffs with his fastball. It’s only the third time this season that Snell hasn’t cracked double-digit called strikes and whiffs with the heater in a start this season. He tried to find it in the fourth and fifth, but to no avail. It’s a feeling Snell said he’s never had.

“For the first three innings, that's as good as you’ll see two pitchers throw the ball,” said manager Jayce Tingler. “Then Blake got into the fourth and just lost his release point a little bit. Battled through and just couldn’t really find it there in the fifth.”

While Snell got the early hook, deGrom continued to dominate, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning before Wil Myers crashed the party, slapping one of deGrom’s signature low-90s sliders into right field. But deGrom, too, would have an early exit after six superb innings due to right flexor tendinitis.

With deGrom out, San Diego’s bats awoke. Fernando Tatis Jr. smashed a double to left field, and Jake Cronenworth gave San Diego its only runs of the game with a two-run shot in the seventh. The Padres put the tying run on base with two outs in the ninth, but Edwin Díaz slammed the door.

“It’s frustrating coming up a little bit short there, but I did like our at-bats in the seventh, eighth and ninth, and hopefully we can carry some of that momentum into tomorrow,” Tingler said.

As both Snell and Tingler have said, frustration summarizes the ethos of San Diego’s loss to New York. But for Snell, his latest start served to reinforce his comfort on the mound. 

The results weren’t completely there, and yet, the left-hander exuded solace following the start. He’s back to being himself, and with that, he knows the best version of himself is within sight.

“I feel like I’m not trying to prove anything now,” Snell said. “I’m just trying to do what I know I can do.”