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Efficient Snell returns to form with 12 K's

Lefty relies on fastball to overpower Rangers as Rays take rubber game
June 30, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite entering Sunday’s game with a 5.01 ERA after allowing six or more runs in three of his past five starts, Rays ace Blake Snell said that he “felt better” during the 2019 campaign than he did in 2018, when he won the American League Cy Young

ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite entering Sunday’s game with a 5.01 ERA after allowing six or more runs in three of his past five starts, Rays ace Blake Snell said that he “felt better” during the 2019 campaign than he did in 2018, when he won the American League Cy Young Award.

On Sunday, it showed in the results. Snell returned to form with a much-needed quality start, striking out 12 and allowing just two runs over six innings of work in the Rays’ 6-2 win over the Rangers at Tropicana Field.

“He looked really good,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Really encouraged by Blake’s outing. We needed that, and he needed that just as much.”

Box score

In his first 16 starts this season, Snell has been hurt by pitch selection, but he has also had a lot of bad luck on balls in play. Snell entered Sunday’s start with a .357 opponents’ batting average on balls in play, significantly higher than the .241 clip hitters had against the left-hander last season. His only mistake Sunday came in the fourth inning against Joey Gallo, who connected on a two-run home run.

But Snell has reiterated that he feels good with what he’s been doing, despite what the ERA and results might indicate.

“I felt really good last start, I felt really good this start,” Snell said. “I just wanted to attack with the fastball, and when the swings dictate that I should do something different, then I’ll do that.”

Throughout his recent struggles, Snell has said that he has been content with his pitch selection, but he admits that his sequencing has been an issue at times. Snell has thrown his fastball nine percent less this season, but on Sunday he threw the fastball 52 times, recording 14 swinging strikes and another 14 called strikes with the pitch.

Snell opened the game with three consecutive fastballs to Shin-Shoo Choo, striking him out. Establishing the pitch allowed Snell to go to his breaking balls the second time through the order. The southpaw threw 14 changeups, eight sliders and six curveballs, and he needed just 80 pitches to get through six innings.

The left-hander also got some run support from the Rays’ offense: Yandy Díaz recorded three doubles, Kevin Kiermaier added an RBI single and an RBI triple and Tommy Pham connected on his 13th home run of the season.

While Snell said that Sunday’s start is something to build on, a different result wouldn’t have changed his stance.

“The results aren’t what you guys want to see,” Snell said. “But the way that I see what I’m doing, I believe it’s better than last year.”

Better results from Snell would be another huge boost for the Rays, who got six shutout innings from Brendan McKay on Saturday against the Rangers. With Charlie Morton, Yonny Chirinos, Snell and McKay in the mix, Tampa Bay could have a formidable rotation in the second half. If Tyler Glasnow is able to return from a right forearm strain, the Rays could have a shot at having one of the better rotations in the AL.

“With our pitching, we always feel pretty good, as long as we keep the guys healthy,” Cash said. “We’re going to go through some tough patches -- maybe like Blake is going through here in the last couple of times through the rotation -- but we’ve got good pitching and we have a lot of it, and it’s really easy after a tough stretch to start questioning it. But we know we have a special group that gets on the mound for us every series.”

Cash ejected

Cash was ejected by home-plate umpire Bruce Dreckman in the second inning of Sunday’s game for arguing balls and strikes.

After consecutive zone calls went against Avisail Garcia in the second inning -- with the last one resulting in a strikeout on a pitch that was off the outside corner -- Cash began shouting at Dreckman from the dugout. Once Cash continued, Dreckman ejected Cash.

“It was just a big at-bat at the time,” Cash said. “I thought Avisail fought really hard to get into a 3-1 count. You like to see the player get rewarded and he did not. They were both calls that could’ve gone either way. Bruce Dreckman does a tremendous job as an umpire, we just didn’t see eye-to-eye.”

In the first inning, Brandon Lowe was also unhappy with a strike call on the outside corner that resulted in a strikeout. On the other side, Rangers infielder Logan Forsythe walked away unhappy after striking out on a pitch that was up, but looked to catch the top part of the strike zone.

Sunday’s ejection was the first of the season for Cash and the ninth of his tenure as Rays manager. The last time the Rays’ skipper was ejected was on September 11, 2018, against the Indians.

“You want to stay in the ballgame,” Cash said. “But I think sometimes we’re probably better off for me to be gone than one of our players that’s in the lineup.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.