Rays make right decision in sending Blake Snell back to minors (w/video)

Blake Snell waits for Mookie Betts to round the bases on a third-inning home run that puts the Red Sox ahead 2-1. Associated Press
Blake Snell waits for Mookie Betts to round the bases on a third-inning home run that puts the Red Sox ahead 2-1.Associated Press
Published May 14 2017

BOSTON — Blake Snell did the Rays wrong again Saturday, falling behind frequently and twice giving up leads in a 6-3 loss to the Red Sox that marked his eighth start of the season without a win.

Then the Rays did the right thing for Snell, demoting him to Triple-A Durham in hopes he can rediscover the command and confidence to be successful.

Snell, 24, has immense talent, dazzling stuff that former Rays ace David Price insists is better than his at a similar age, but he was not going to get straightened out by staying in the Rays rotation.

That became more and more obvious as each start followed a similar pattern. Snell would twirl a good inning or two followed by a bad one, typically dooming himself with walks that drove up his pitch count and forced him out early. Then to compound it, he'd deliver the same unsatisfactory explanations about knowing better but just needing to do so.

"We've got to get him to the kind of environment where he can pitch without the pressure of trying to win a major-league game and focus on what got him good and what got him here in the first place," Rays manager Kevin Cash said in explaining the decision. "We would not be doing this if it was not 100 percent in his best interest."

Whether Snell agrees is unclear, as he wasn't given the news until the media was done in the clubhouse.

I had asked him after the game if he might be better served being dropped from the rotation or sent down. He answered with a firm, "No," and said he was "100 percent" confident that he could be successful in the majors.

But this is the right move, and Snell should see it that way. Not as a punishment and maybe even as a relief.

Snell spoke after the game of his frustration in letting down his teammates by giving away the 1-0 and 3-2 leads they took against Boston ace Chris Sale, but that feeling had been becoming mutual across the clubhouse.

"Another tough game where it would have been nice to shut them down after we get a couple leads," said centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who hit a two-run homer in the fifth. "But it wasn't the case. But that's baseball sometimes."

A compounding factor was Snell's lack of accountability in his comments after games, which routinely drew eye rolls from others in uniform, and even his kids-today habit of constantly playing games on his iPad. This all came after a bad spring he treated with a "what, me worry?" attitude.

Another benefit for Snell pitching in Durham will be quieting the cacophony of advice he was getting, with the other starters, a couple of veterans and his coaches all making suggestions.

Snell will work in Durham with pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who helped him get to the majors, and focus really on one thing: improving his fastball command.

In a way, Snell should be easy to "fix." He doesn't need to learn a new pitch or drastically revamp his delivery, just improve his ability to throw his fastball over the plate.

"It all starts with fastball command," Cash said, "to get in the zone with the first two pitches."

Saturday was the latest example of how that has been lacking.

After sailing through the first two innings, and leading 1-0 on Logan Morrison's homer, Snell walked No. 7 hitter Sandy Leon to open the third then gave up a two-out homer to Mookie Betts.

And after the Rays retook a 3-2 lead on Kiermaier's homer in the fifth, Snell did it again, walking Leon then allowing three straight doubles as the Red Sox scored four more.

"The 2-0 (counts), the 3-1, the falling behind really hurt him," Cash said. "That's a pretty tough strategy to go with against those hitters."

Snell had thrown 94 pitches by the time he finished the fifth, where his work ended in his previous six starts. So it seemed to be the first message of the chilly afternoon when Cash sent him out to start the sixth and had him throw a career-high 113 pitches.

Erasmo Ramirez will move into the rotation, though with the potential for a rainout today and an off day Thursday, they could hold off for a while. Hard-throwing rookie Ryne Stanek was called up to join what will be an even more inexperienced bullpen without Ramirez.

Snell — 6-12 with a 3.92 ERA in 27 big-league starts — joins a long list of pitchers, including some very good ones, who were sent back to the minors. There is no set time frame for his stay, just the assumption that they will know when he's right, and ready.

"We still believe in Blake," Cash said. "For us to be the kind of team we can be, Blake has got to be in our rotation."

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.