Snell allows just one hit: 'This is my night'

In his longest Padres outing, lefty keeps Mets hitless until 7th

June 5th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- In January, after the Padres traded for and then Yu Darvish and then Joe Musgrove, the expectations for their starting rotation grew as high as they've ever been. Reasonably so. On paper, this was probably the best rotation in franchise history.

And it still might be. The Padres' offense has wavered at times, but the pitching staff has been a force. The rotation's 3.13 ERA ranks fifth in the Majors. Musgrove and Darvish have done their part. But Snell, the first domino to fall in the rotation overhaul this winter, had yet to join the party.

Well, welcome to the party, Blake Snell.

When the Padres landed the former Cy Young Award winner in a deal with Tampa Bay, they envisioned nights like this one. Snell, who entered play with an ERA north of 5, carried a no-hitter through six innings on Friday night in San Diego’s 2-0 victory over the Mets at Petco Park. 

“Honestly, I just needed a start like this to feel that fire,” Snell said afterward. “Just kind of feel what it’s like to be myself again.”

In his longest outing since April 2019, Snell pitched seven innings of scoreless, one-hit ball and struck out 10. The left-hander punctuated his efforts with an all-time escape act in the top of the seventh, after Francisco Lindor led off the frame with a single that left fielder Tommy Pham misplayed into three bases.

With Lindor as the potential tying run at third base, Snell struck out James McCann and Pete Alonso popped to third base. With two outs and two strikes, Snell got Brandon Drury to swing through a 97 mph fastball with his 101st pitch of the night. He hopped off the mound and let loose a scream. Then another.

“I just said: This is my night, I’m not letting no one go across that plate,” Snell said. “... As that inning went, I just knew I was going to have a lot behind every fastball. Might as well throw it as hard as I can and see what they can do with it.”

Snell had plenty of pent-up energy to work with. His first two months in San Diego haven’t gone according to the script. The Padres gave up an awful lot to acquire Snell -- by far the most of any of the three big-name starters they traded for. Makes sense. Snell was a 28-year-old in his prime with three years of team contractual control remaining.

But in his first two months, Snell posted a 5.55 ERA and a 1.6 WHIP. He showed flashes -- his 80 strikeouts across 54 innings this season are a pretty strong indicator of the electric stuff that he possesses. But Snell’s command has eluded him too often. His starts had a tendency to spiral.

On Friday, Snell looked like a different pitcher, working crisply and economically -- throwing strikes and letting his elite swing-and-miss stuff do the rest.

“He was just around the zone and on the attack,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “… This was for sure his best outing so far, and it’s really something he can build on and get going.”

That last bit is the important part. The Padres need this version of Snell more frequently. He needs to figure out why everything worked so well on Friday and why it hadn’t been working for the majority of his first 11 outings this season.

“Now I got to keep it going, get better from it,” Snell said. “I’ve felt good this whole time, so it’s been frustrating.”

One quick fix? Snell ditched his changeup on Friday, because he couldn’t find the zone and was falling behind in counts.

“I got annoyed with my changeup,” Snell said. “I put it in timeout. I literally told the changeup, you’re in timeout, we’re not talking. I’m going to meet with the changeup in two days, we’ll see how it wants to act.”

The fastball, slider and curveball, on the other hand -- those were working just fine.

gave Snell an early lead to work with, launching a solo home run into the second-deck off of former Padres left-hander Joey Lucchesi in the first inning. The score remained 1-0 until Snell’s escape act in the seventh. Machado worked a bases-loaded walk in the bottom half of the frame to cap the scoring.

It was the Padres' 12th straight home win, setting a franchise record. Their 36 wins are tied with the Giants and Rays for the most in baseball. Their rotation has been one of the best in the sport, even while one of their most electric arms has struggled.

So what does this rotation look like if Snell begins to resemble the version of himself that took home the 2018 American League Cy Young Award with a 1.89 ERA across 31 starts?

The Padres wouldn’t mind finding out.