ST. PETERSBURG -- Blake Snell said watching the rest of the Rays' staff pitch well over the last few days made him “hungrier to get better.” On Tuesday, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner bounced back from an Opening Day loss by tying a career high with 13 strikeouts in seven innings of work in the Rays’ 4-0 win over the Rockies.
The last time Snell recorded 13 strikeouts in a game was on Oct. 1, 2017, against the Orioles.
“We’ve seen him now have a lot of sharp games,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “That was a really crisp game. It seemed like he was commanding all of them. Broke his slider and changeup out much more than we did against the Astros.”
Snell was unhappy with the way he mixed his pitches in his first start, but did a much better job of sequencing on Tuesday. The left-hander threw 36 fastballs, 22 changeups, 28 curveballs and 16 sliders. Of the 13 strikeouts recorded by Snell, seven of them came on the curveball, which ties him with Jeff Niemann and Charlie Morton for the most by a Rays pitcher in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). Snell threw 102 pitches, 67 of them for strikes.
“I was just happy that I used my pitches very, very, very good,” Snell said. “I was happy with my mix. I was throwing everything. I’m happy me and [Mike Zunino] got in a rhythm pretty quick.
“We got to the point around the sixth inning where we were just kind of laughing with each other. Everything was really good today.”
Offensively, the Rays took advantage of an early mistake by Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta, which led to a three-run first inning. With the bases loaded in the first inning, Zunino hit a grounder to Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, who fired home to force Yandy Díaz at the plate. It appeared the Rockies had gotten the out at home, but replay showed that Iannetta’s left foot was off the plate, allowing Diaz to score the first run of the game.
Guillermo Heredia, who was making his first start as a member of the Rays, followed the error with a two-run single to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. Christian Arroyo also made his first start of the season and drove in the fourth run of the game with an RBI single in the sixth inning.
With Tuesday’s win, the Rays have now won five straight games and the 5-1 start is the best six-game start in franchise history. It was also the fourth straight game that the Rays' pitching staff has allowed one run or fewer.
“You take them any time you can get them,” Zunino said. “The team is feeling good and we want to continue to play good baseball, especially here in front of the home crowd. It’s one of those things where we have to continue to do that and hope to close this thing out before the road trip.”
Robertson day to day with illness
Rays infielder Daniel Robertson left Tuesday’s game due to an illness. The team announced that he’ll be day to day.
Robertson singled off Rockies starter Kyle Freeland in the first inning and came around to score off the Heredia two-run single. Brandon Lowe replaced Robertson when his spot in the order came up in the second inning.
Diaz removed late
Diaz was removed from Tuesday’s game with what appeared to be a left ankle issue. After hitting a double in the eighth inning, Diaz immediately bent over and grabbed his ankle. Following a quick discussion with the training staff and Cash, Diaz was replaced by Ji-Man Choi.
“He was probably going to get the day off Wednesday anyway,” Cash said. “So hopefully get him two days off and be good.”
Diaz has a .333 batting average so far this season and has recorded a hit in each of the team’s six games.