The hours of work Blake Snell put in with Durham pitching coach Kyle Snyder during his six-week exile to Triple A were dedicated to simplifying his mechanics, making his delivery more repeatable and increasing his strike throwing.
Though the improvements seemed negligible during Snell's first two starts back with the Rays, there have been some glimpses of promise.
The immediate focus is to get Snell over the hurdle of working only five innings and thus deeper into games. The bigger-picture goal is to propel Snell to realize, and maximize, his immense potential.
And when he takes the mound tonight against the A's, for what will be his 30th big-league start, Snell says this absolutely, positively will be the night he breaks through.
"Honestly, it's just time that I make it happen," said Snell, who is 0-5 with a 4.85 ERA this season and 6-13, 4.02 overall. "Quit talking about it. Quit saying, 'Oh, this and that.' Just do it. That's kind of where I'm at. I just need to do it.
"I know what I need to do. I need to throw zeroes and I need to go six-plus. It's time to do it. That's how I feel. I'm over the talking about it. I need to start doing it. I know I'm capable of doing what I'm saying. But I need to do it."
The saying part is obviously easier, and feel free to scoff at Snell's quotes and say you've heard it before and haven't seen any real results in his parts of two seasons with the Rays.
But those around Snell, 24, the most — his bosses and fellow starters — say they have noticed a change in how he carries himself, the quality of his between-starts work and his approach.
And that stems from something else he picked up in Durham: a dose of attitude from prospect Brent Honeywell.
"I feel like I got a lot of the confidence he has," Snell said. "I got that off of him."
They seem an unlikely tandem — Honeywell being about as southern as them come, boots, mullet and twang included; Snell a Seattle-area product with a bit of Northwest aloofness and millennial view — but they bonded well and helped each other.
"We talked a lot about what to do up there, even though I'm sitting down here (in Durham)," Honeywell said. "I watch every one of his starts, and to me he's doing a lot better since he's been back. He knew what was going on, and he owned up to it, and that was the difference-maker."
Veteran Jake Odorizzi said he noticed an immediate difference about Snell since his late June return.
"He's got more like a fresh attitude," Odorizzi said. "I think that time did him really well. He was able to iron some stuff out, and I notice more confidence in him now."
Which makes Odorizzi curious to see how that translates tonight in Snell's first outing since July 5.
In his first two starts back, Snell went five rough innings against the Pirates (four hits and five walks, throwing 98 pitches) and five scoreless innings against the Cubs (four hits and four walks, throwing 97).
But only five both times. That makes it eight of 10 starts this season, and 18 of 29 overall, that Snell has not worked more than five innings.
"I think he needs that one start that gets him into the seventh inning," Odorizzi said. "I know that we've heard it for a long time, but I think that's really what's going to do it for him. To see that he can do it, to prove it to himself, to prove it to everybody else.
"I think it's a big burden on him right now, and that anytime he doesn't get to the sixth it's amplified."
Starter Chris Archer has been talking to Snell a lot about strike-throwing and similarly thinks he is close to breaking through, needing to make just "a minor mental adjustment" in realizing his standard stuff is good enough and that he doesn't have to try to throw harder or make his slider nastier. "It's time for him," Archer said.
Even if Snell bombs tonight, the Rays aren't ready to ship him back out yet — though with the ironic twist that if so, he could be replaced by Honeywell. But, with hopes of making the playoffs, the Rays need him to step up. And soon.
"Nobody has ever questioned Blake's potential and how much he could impact our starting rotation," manager Kevin Cash said. "But we do need him to get going. And we need him to get going now."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.