Listening to Blake Snell dissect his start Monday, one might think he had just been knocked around the park by the Brewers.
His slider? “Not where it needs to be.” Consistency? “I’ve got to clean that up.” Even when he found a positive from his outing, it was typically followed up with some sort of qualifier.
“Overall, I'm happy,” Snell said. “But there's a lot of work to do still.”
Snell allowed one hit over three scoreless innings in the Padres’ 13-3 win over the Brewers at American Family Fields of Phoenix, striking out two without issuing a walk. In three starts this spring, Snell has yet to allow a run in his six innings, surrendering just two hits and one walk.
“I'm in good shape, arm feels healthy, body feels good,” Snell said. “I need to get stronger with my body to go as deep as I really want to go, but with how the ball is coming out, I'm really happy with it.”
Still, the hyper-competitive side of Snell kept making an appearance as he discussed his day. As pleased as he was in general with his fastball command, he lamented a mistake pitch to Keston Hiura in the first inning that wound up as a line drive caught by Jurickson Profar in center field.
“I got lucky because I was ahead of the count, so his swing couldn’t be as aggressive,” Snell said of the 0-2 heater.
“When you get ahead, stay ahead, put them away. These are things that have to happen every at bat. It's laziness; it's the way you're thinking, because I know I can make these pitches. That's what I really have to do a better job at. The three innings look good because there's one hit, no walks – I get it, but I want to be a lot better than that, so there’s definitely a lot of work.”
If Snell’s spring is any indication, the Padres’ acquisition of the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner should boost San Diego’s chances of competing with the Dodgers in the National League West.
“He's probably his toughest critic, and that's a good quality to have,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “He keeps working and keeps looking to improve.”
Snell’s self-critical approach might seem like a bit much, but the 28-year-old knows what he wants -- to win -- and what it takes to accomplish that goal. One pitch can cause an entire start to unravel, so in his mind, he can’t afford to make the mistake that could cost him the game.
“I don't know when I'll be done pitching or anything like that, so every game is like the most important thing to me because it's my opportunity to actually go for something, to be the best at something,” Snell said. “It’s that way with everything; when I’m playing video games, I'm not playing to have fun. I'm playing to be the best. I'm a bad loser.
“The No. 1 thing for me is to be the best me that I can be. I don't want to just be the guy that could have been. I want to max out my potential.”
As tough as Snell was on himself, he passed the buck on his two trips to the plate. Under strict orders not to swing the bat, Snell struck out looking twice, seeing a total of seven pitches.
“I'm looking forward to actually going up there to swing the bat and not going up there looking,” Snell said. “Fans [were] telling me to swing; they're on me. They want to see greatness; they want to see a pitcher get a knock. I want to do that for them. I want to be their guy, but today was just working on my eye seeing the baseball.
“I told Jayce I saw it well, but once those guys start throwing 95, I don't know if I’ll see it as good.”
Although Christian Yelich was a late scratch Monday, the Brewers’ played a majority of their regulars, giving Snell a taste of the big league lineups he’ll be facing all season. His next start is scheduled for Sunday against the Angels. While most pitchers would be thrilled to see Mike Trout get a day off when their turn comes, Snell hopes the three-time AL MVP and the rest of the Angels’ starters are in the lineup.
“If you face guys that aren't the best guys in the lineup, how are you going to get better? How are you going to learn?” Snell said. “I want to face the best so I know if I dominate that lineup, I faced their best lineup, which means my pitches and what I was doing is going to be good during the season.
“I just feel like when you're OK and you're like, ‘That was a good start,’ and you look at it that way, you're going to get worse. You're going to find a way to just be OK with being good. And that's a scary thing.”