Snell's 13-K gem fuels Padres' shutout of AZ

August 9th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- When the Padres dealt for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in back-to-back trades last December, they pictured the duo shutting down opponents in back-to-back games, making things miserable for opponents.

That picture finally came into focus on Sunday afternoon at Petco Park.

Snell was in his full Cy Young form as the Padres topped the D-backs, 2-0, to secure their first series win since taking two of three in Washington to open the second half of the season. Snell matched his longest outing with the Padres, tossing seven innings while allowing two hits and three walks and racking up a career-high-tying 13 strikeouts and throwing 108 pitches.

“He was locked in from pitch one to pitch 1-0-something,” San Diego manager Jayce Tingler said.

Added Snell: “I’m just starting to feel stronger again and feel more like myself. Confidence is at an all-time high. … Now, it’s about continuing to do this, continuing to attack, to be aggressive and have that anger behind every pitch.”

Snell's performance came a day after Darvish matched a season high with 12 strikeouts while allowing only two runs in seven innings in a win against the D-backs.

It was the first time Darvish and Snell each pitched at least seven innings in back-to-back games and only the second time they went at least six consecutively (May 17-18 vs. Colorado). It was also the first time in Padres history that the team got at least 12 strikeouts from their starting pitcher in consecutive games.

“That’s what they’re capable of,” Tingler said. "To see them line that up back to back is huge. It’s huge for the team, huge for the bullpen. And it’s big for their confidence going forward.”

Getting a pair of ace-like efforts over the weekend was timely, too, as the Padres are looking at a bullpen game on Tuesday. Tingler said right-hander Craig Stammen is in line to start that night against Miami, after sturdy starter Joe Musgrove goes Monday.

In a season in which Snell has struggled to pitch efficiently, the left-hander was highly efficient on Sunday. He got 25 swing-and-misses -- one shy of his career high and tied for the second most in a game by a Padres hurler since pitch tracking began in 2008. Musgrove had 27 swing-and-misses on April 19 vs. the Brewers. James Shields also had 25 on April 27, 2015.

Snell’s slider was responsible for 19 of his whiffs. Only the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has had more slider whiffs in an MLB game this season, as he's had 22 twice.

With full bite to his slider, Snell stuck mostly to a fastball-slider strategy. He said stellar defensive plays behind him in the first two innings only fueled his confidence.

Left fielder Tommy Pham made a leaping, Spider-Man-like catch in foul ground in the first, virtually walking up the wall to get to the ball and retire Ketel Marte. And Jake Cronenworth, who had an RBI single and a homer to account for the scoring, made a diving stop deep in the hole at shortstop and completed a long throw from the grass to nab Carson Kelly at first base in the second.

Catcher Austin Nola made a key play of another sort. The most challenging moment of the afternoon for Snell came in the fourth, after he walked Kelly and was unhappy with several of the calls during the plate appearance. Snell fell behind, 2-0, to the next batter, Christian Walker, and Nola came to the mound for a longer-than-usual mound visit.

“We were both upset, because we thought we had made some pretty good pitches there,” Snell said. “We were kind of calming each other down, honestly. ‘OK, this is our game. Focus on the next pitch.’ Pretty much that.”

Snell proceeded to strike out Walker on a full-count 95.2 mph fastball that was set up by two called strikes on sliders.

“It’s been nice having Nola behind the plate,” Snell said. “We’re starting to figure each other out.”

Which means batters will likely have increasing trouble figuring Snell out.