Blake Snell Is Lights Out in His First Start for Durham

May 3, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) looks on during the second inning against the Miami Marlins at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
May 3, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) looks on during the second inning against the Miami Marlins at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Blake Snell returned to Durham and pitches a gem in his first game, showing once again how capable he is and how a return to the Tampa Bay Rays could be sooner than later.

Blake Snell made his first start for Triple-A Durham on Friday night and responded with a performance that the Tampa Bay Rays had been waiting to see from their second year left-hander this season.

Snell’s performance was very impressive, as he allowed just one run (earned) on seven hits, with 12 strikeouts and only two walks to pick up his first win of the season, albeit with Durham and not the Rays.

The primary reason for Snell’s demotion to Durham was to give him the opportunity to get his game back on track under a less pressured environment. The areas that Snell would need to work on were his command of his pitches, working deeper into games and throwing strikes.

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Prior to Snell’s demotion, he had gone 0-4 with an ERA of 4.71 and had failed in seven of his eight starts to pitch into the sixth inning. One of the reasons was his high pitch count and laboring to throw strikes on a consistent basis. Over the eight starts, he averaged 99 pitches per game, and in four of those games, he had thrown over 100 pitches.

His percentage of strikes thrown was 56.9 percent, 31 percent were strikes looking and 16.9 percent were strikes swinging all coming on a total of 792 pitches thrown in 42 total innings pitched.

Not all of Blake Snell’s tasks were met in his first start with the Bulls, though it was a good start – the one missing link was failing to pitch deeper into a game. After 5.1 innings, Snell had thrown 107 pitches and came out of the game, failing for the seventh time in eight starts (includes six out of seven with the Rays) that he failed to pitch into the sixth inning.

However, he did throw strikes at a 67 percent clip, as 72 of his 107 pitches were strikes. “His strike percentage was where we hoped it would be,” said Durham manager Jared Sandberg . “He pumped strikes.”

Not only did he throw strikes, but also he had the Gwinnett batters whiffing threw his pitches as batters swung and missed on 23 of his pitches and 19 of his strikes were called looking.

When Snell was with Durham for a part of the 2015 and 2016 season, he combined to strike out 147 batters in 107.1 innings pitched. Not only did he have a high strikeout count, but also his walks were minimal giving up just 41.

Attempting to work his problems out at the major league level was not happening for Blake Snell. Rays manager Kevin Cash, pitching coach Jim Hickey did whatever they could do to help Snell, but it never sunk in. It was up to Snell to make it work and with each start, the results were the same as were Snell’s post-game remarks to the media.

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Following his start against Boston which led to the demotion, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times asked Snell if he thought it would better serve him to be demoted or dropped from the rotation to work out his problems. Snell answered with a firm, “No,” and said he was “100 percent” confident that he could be successful in the majors.

The Rays believe in Snell, they want him to succeed and if they did not they would not have given him this opportunity to set himself straight. They know how capable he is, they know what he can do and it is not as if they are asking him to reinvent himself.

All the Rays want is for Snell is to gain his confidence back, throw strikes, work deeper into the game and be the pitcher that they know he is and can be at the major league level. Now it is all up to Snell to follow through.

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If Snell can get over this hurdle, and continue pitching the way he did in his first start for Durham, he will be returning to the rotation sooner than later, which is exactly what the Rays are hoping for and what they need to help them get back into the post-season.