ST. PETERSBURG — When Rays rookie LHP Blake Snell faced the Blue Jays for the first time last month, he was too much in awe of their lineup, and his timid performance led to an early exit and an ugly loss.
But Snell learned from his mistake, and the aggressive approach he took Saturday, combined with a nasty changeup, led to a solid six-inning outing in the Rays' 7-5 win.
"I was really happy about the way I was attacking the zone as the game went on," Snell said. "I felt more aggressive, more of a mind-set of, 'Hit it,' let's see what they can do with it. I was really, really happy about that."
Snell had not been as effective since that Aug. 10 game in Toronto, and Rays manager Kevin Cash said they had "multiple discussions" with the talented 23-year-old about pitching to his strengths and not be as concerned with the opponent.
"Drastic improvement," Cash said.
Having the changeup to work in concert with the high-octane fastball tends to make Snell more effective, and he simplified things to take advantage.
Snell allowed only one run on two hits and two walks while striking out seven, though throwing 104 pitches in the six innings. His biggest out was striking out Russell Martin to end the third with a run in and two on, and he retired his next nine batters after that.
"I was attacking, but with meaning," said Snell (5-7, 3.39). "Last game I threw, there was no meaning, there was just attacking. This time I knew what I was throwing, I knew why I was throwing it."
GAME STUFF: The Rays (58-76) broke through against usually tough RHP Marco Estrada with a five-run fifth, combining bloops and a well-executed bunt by Kevin Kiermaier with a couple of key hits. Evan Longoria knocked in the first run with a bases-loaded single, and after Brad Miller walked to put them up 2-1, Matt Duffy delivered the big hit, a bases-clearing double off the leftfield wall to make it 5-1.
"That looked like the hit of the night," Cash said.
Kiermaier added a two-run homer in the seventh to make it 7-1, and the Rays needed it. That's because Enny Romero made a big mess in the ninth, with three walks and a hit, forcing Cash to unexpectedly need closer RHP Alex Colome, who allowed two hits before getting the final out for his 30th save.
"Enny just had a rough patch,'' Cash said. "Enny knows he's got to get ahead of hitters and find ways to put them away in that type of score.''
SOUZA OUT, AGAIN: OF Steven Souza Jr. did not start for the fourth time in five games, primarily the result of Corey Dickerson and converted INF Nick Franklin, who started in right, playing better. "The guys that are in there are really producing," Cash said. "Souza is going to play. He's part of our club, there's no doubt about it. He's going to get opportunities, and a lot of them going forward."
BECKHAM UPDATE: INF Tim Beckham, sent down after Wednesday's game due to repeated baserunning mistakes, joined Triple-A Durham on Saturday at Gwinnett but did not play. The Bulls have two games left and are unlikely to make the playoffs, so a decision on his return could come Monday.
ALEX GREAT: RHP Alex Cobb woke up Saturday sore from his toes to his fingertips. He couldn't have felt better about it as the residual of his impressive return the night before from Tommy John surgery, his first big-league start in nearly two years.
"About as sore as I was expecting, but sore in all the right places, so I was pretty happy," Cobb said. "Actually the elbow itself feels great."
MISCELLANY: Though rosters can be expanded, the Rays played again with just a three-man bench, Souza plus two catchers. … Double-A Montgomery beat Tennessee 3-2 Saturday night to become the fourth Rays minor-league team to reach the playoffs, joining rookie-level Princeton, short-season Class A Hudson Valley and Class A Bowling Green. … Cash commended communications VP Rick Vaughn for his work in organizing Friday's Childhood Cancer Awareness Month event.