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Inbox: What made everything click for Snell?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers questions from fans
MLB.com @wwchastain

Blake Snell is an All-Star this season. I can't believe the difference in his pitching between this time a year ago and this year. What is the big difference?
-- Pete C., Tampa, Fla.

I'm not sure if Snell's performance should come as such a big surprise, given his strong track record coming up through the system and his strong finish to the 2017 season, but it has been fun to watch. Last season, in his final 10 starts after being recalled from Triple-A Durham on Aug. 8, he went 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA. He did not allow an earned run in four of those 10 starts. A lot of that success was attributed to an adjustment in which he moved from the third-base side of the rubber to the middle of the rubber. Apparently, that lined him up better to throw strikes. Seems like that strong finish added confidence, and now he's out there expecting to win, in essence telling opposing hitters, "I've got four quality pitches, here's one of them, see what you can do with it." And as Rays fans have seen this season, they haven't been able to do much. See Monday night's seven scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit against the Nationals. All things point to a lot of positives in Snell's future.

Blake Snell is an All-Star this season. I can't believe the difference in his pitching between this time a year ago and this year. What is the big difference?
-- Pete C., Tampa, Fla.

I'm not sure if Snell's performance should come as such a big surprise, given his strong track record coming up through the system and his strong finish to the 2017 season, but it has been fun to watch. Last season, in his final 10 starts after being recalled from Triple-A Durham on Aug. 8, he went 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA. He did not allow an earned run in four of those 10 starts. A lot of that success was attributed to an adjustment in which he moved from the third-base side of the rubber to the middle of the rubber. Apparently, that lined him up better to throw strikes. Seems like that strong finish added confidence, and now he's out there expecting to win, in essence telling opposing hitters, "I've got four quality pitches, here's one of them, see what you can do with it." And as Rays fans have seen this season, they haven't been able to do much. See Monday night's seven scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit against the Nationals. All things point to a lot of positives in Snell's future.

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I thought the Rays were crazy to be using their "bullpen days," but now I've bought in. I do wonder if they will wear out their bullpen, though. What do you think?
-- Jim G., St. Petersburg

I've got to say, I was right there with you in doubting the "bullpen days," but the results have been good. And I, too, wondered about the long-term effect on the overall state of the bullpen. To date, I think they've managed the bullpen well. I think some of the blowback to the overall concept has been the fact baseball is rich with its traditions, and the idea of not having a starting pitcher doesn't sit well with certain people. Let's see how it looks at the end of the season.

Man, I love watching Jake Bauers and Willy Adames play. This year's team is a lot more fun to watch than any team the Rays have put out there the last several years. Youth is always a joy to watch. Who are some of the other top position player prospects?
-- Scott G., Tampa, Fla.

Two who jump out to me are Justin Williams and Jesus Sanchez, who are ranked No. 9 and No. 4, respectively, by MLB Pipeline. Both are outfielders and both can make a baseball look small in a hurry after they hit it. Williams is closer since he's at Triple-A Durham, but given Sanchez's talent, he should move fast through the organization. I like watching both of these guys, and I think they will be Major Leaguers.

The way I see it is this, a part of the Rays' problem is their schedule. They play a weighted schedule, with the bulk of their games against American League East opponents. I think they need to play a balanced schedule. That's the only fair way to do things since all of the teams are competing for the two AL Wild Card spots.
-- Mark B., Sarasota, Fla.

The first three years of the Rays' existence, they did play a balanced schedule. Now the bulk of their games are against the AL East -- that translates to 18 games against the Yankees and Red Sox every year. I do agree that competition for the Wild Card spots would be more equitable with a balanced schedule. Though I do like the idea of having division rivalries, and those grow more intense the more teams play each other.

Is Kevin Kiermaier's offense ever going to come around? He's such an amazing defender, I'd just like to see more offense.
-- Ken C., Tampa, Fla.

Kiermaier is a great athlete, so I understand your question. I do think his offense will come around. Look at what he did last year after coming off the 60-day disabled list. He hit .306 with five doubles, a triple, eight home runs and 19 RBIs in 36 games. Unfortunately, he has been injured a lot. He hit his second career grand slam on Monday night. Then on Tuesday, he opened the game with a single against Max Scherzer and scored the only run of the game. Perhaps Rays fans are about to see Kiermaier's offense blossom.

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

Tampa Bay Rays, Blake Snell