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Snell takes on Bucs in return to Rays rotation

MLB.com

Blake Snell makes his return to the Rays in the second game of their three-game Interleague series against the Pirates on Wednesday night at PNC Park. He'll be opposed by Pittsburgh right-hander Ivan Nova.

Snell began the season with the Rays, but the left-hander struggled to pitch deep into games. Hoping to improve the situation, the Rays optioned him to Triple-A Durham on May 14.

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Blake Snell makes his return to the Rays in the second game of their three-game Interleague series against the Pirates on Wednesday night at PNC Park. He'll be opposed by Pittsburgh right-hander Ivan Nova.

Snell began the season with the Rays, but the left-hander struggled to pitch deep into games. Hoping to improve the situation, the Rays optioned him to Triple-A Durham on May 14.

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"It was the best thing for me," said Snell of his demotion. "How much I learned. How much better I got. I definitely needed it, so I am happy I went and it made me a lot better."

Snell, 24, was 0-4 with a 4.71 ERA in eight starts for the Rays earlier in the season. He is 5-0 with a 2.66 ERA in seven starts for the Bulls. Rays manager Kevin Cash said he is confident about Snell returning to the Rays as an improved pitcher.

"Yeah [he's ready to come back up]," Cash said. "We asked him to go down there, work on a couple of things. Improve on some things. He went and did that. We're happy where he's at."

Snell said the main thing he accomplished at Durham was getting his delivery back to "how it used to be."

"I am more explosive," Snell said. "It's really just being in the zone. That's the one thing. I have my confidence back. I saw it play out. Everything just got better."

The veteran Nova has established himself as a starter who goes deep into games. He's gone at least six innings in each of his 15 starts, and he's already at 103 innings (the Pirates' team leader in innings pitched last year was Jeff Locke, with 127 1/3).

In Nova's last outing, he allowed four runs on 11 hits in seven innings and lost to the Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. He owns a 2.53 ERA in seven home outings this year.

Three things to know about this game:

• A former Yankee, Nova is 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA in 18 career appearances (16 starts) against the Rays. He has pitched 100 1/3 innings against Tampa Bay, more than any other team he has faced except Baltimore. He has struggled with third baseman Evan Longoria, however, as Longoria owns a career .289/.357/.579 slash line with three homers in 42 plate appearances against Nova.

• After sending down catcher Jacob Stallings to Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday, the Pirates are carrying a short bench and an eight-man bullpen. With either Elias Diaz or Chris Stewart on the bench as the backup catcher, Pittsburgh's only realistic pinch-hitting options are former Ray John Jaso and rookies Jose Osuna and Max Moroff.

• In his first stint with the Rays this season, Snell registered a strike on just 56.9 percent of his pitches. That's the lowest strike rate for anyone with at least 750 pitches thrown in 2017.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.