Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

As Rays beat Red Sox, a new debate about Blake Snell — is he an ace?

BOSTON — Whether Blake Snell has shaken his shaky past and emerged as a legitimate, dependable and often dominating starter for the Rays is no longer the question.

Now it may be when he starts getting talked about as an ace.

Snell continued his impressive start to this season, and extended his late 2017 turnaround, with another impressive outing in a tough test, beating the baseball-best Red Sox on a cold Friday night at Fenway Park.

"He certainly looked the part tonight, looked the part of that No. 1, elite, whatever you want to call it,'' manager Kevin Cash said, stopping just short of the a-word. "He did his job.'''

And a bunch of other Rays did theirs, as the 4-3 win over Boston was their seventh straight, extending their longest streak since 2014, as they continued their climb back from that 1-8 start to 11-13.

Wilson Ramos, Rob Refsnyder and Daniel Robertson homered, and Chaz Roe and Alex Colome took care of the final outs after Snell worked a career high 71/3 innings.

"It's a good team win. To see the offense get four runs on the board allows me to be more aggressive, more in the zone, more comfortable, more confident,'' Snell said. "Beating them, it feels great.''

Having allowed only one run in each of his last three starts, and no walks in his last two, Snell was sharp from the start, taking a no-hitter into the fifth and improving to 4-1, 2.52.

"Pretty big outing for him,'' Cash said. "I know he's had some good outings, but to come in and establish the way he did early on, he kind of carved right through their lineup the first time through. To do that, that lineup is so talented … you've got to have everything going and he did tonight.

"I thought the way he set up his approach from pitch one. First time through he kind of threw them off that he was just attack, attack, attack. There was never one time he let off the pedal.''

Snell retired the first nine Sox in order, then worked around a leadoff walk and his own error to get through the fourth. He allowed his first to leadoff the fifth, Xander Bogaerts' single through the infield that went off the glove of diving shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.

RELATED: Why pitching is now personal for Rays Snell

His only real spot of trouble came in the sixth, when he allowed three doubles in a five-batter span that netted two runs, and he came back to work the seventh and retire the first batter of the eighth.

He allowed just the two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out nine, throwing 104 pitches. That made for a team-record 10 straight starts of allowing five or fewer hits, dating to Sept. 12, 2017, breaking a tie with Drew Smyly and Matt Moore.

The Rays have come to expect good things from Snell. He has had the potential — a word he hates hearing, by the way — since the Rays made him their seventh pick, and 52nd overall, in the ill-fated 2011 draft, given the combination of his lanky frame, power arm that unleashes a fastball averaging 95 mph, and repertoire that includes three other quality options with a curveball, slider and changeup.

Now the Rays are seeing it regularly.

"He is unique,'' rotation mate and occasional mentor Chris Archer said. "He's 6-5, he's left-handed, he throws hard, he has three other pitches, four total, that are above-average. There's nobody else in the league who possesses all of those traits. Nobody.

"You see glimpses. But the last 12-13 starts, dating back to last year, he's shown what he's capable of. The numbers speak for themselves, especially considering the level of competition that we play. He can be the elite of the elite. It takes consistency, and you can see it coming. It's coming together.''

Added Cash: "He's very special with the weapons that he has, the power, the uniqueness to his pitches, how they balance with each other. I think what has taken him maybe over the hump a little bit more is the mind-set that he carries to the ballpark every day now.''

The way pitching coach Kyle Snyder sees it, that off-field improvement may be the bigger key.

"The self-analysis, awareness, maturity and growth in being able to look at what he's doing and figure out what he could do to be better,'' Snyder said. "Being able to constructively criticize outings that otherwise you would be really happy with was for him a huge step.''

With Matt Duffy off the disabled list and back in the lineup, the Rays built an early 4-0 lead with the homers by Ramos, Refsnyder (his first since Oct. 1, 2015, a span of 266 at-bats) and the red-hot Robertson. And they hung on when Colome overcame a leadoff infield single for his fifth save.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays

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