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Blake Snell on the mark as Rays roll to franchise-best 5-1 start

Rays take second straight versus Rockies.
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) celebrates a strikeout to end the top of the second inning against the the Colorado Rockies at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on April 2, 2019. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) celebrates a strikeout to end the top of the second inning against the the Colorado Rockies at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on April 2, 2019. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Apr. 3, 2019|Updated Apr. 3, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG – The goal for Rays top starter Blake Snell after a frustrating opening day outing was improved sequencing of his pitches.

Snell indeed was better Tuesday against the Rockies in mixing up what he threw between his four weapons.

The results, though, was somewhat numbingly similar: Strike one, strike two, strike three.

Snell struck out a career-high matching 13 and allowed just two hits over seven dominant innings in an impressive bounce back performance, at least winking at if not fully flirting with a perfect game in not allowing a baserunner until the fifth.

His efforts led the way as the Rays rolled to a 4-0 win that was their fifth straight, and the first, and thus best, 5-1 start in 22 years of franchise history.

Snell’s mates made it easier for him in an aces-high matchup with Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland, scoring three in the first inning. Two, though, did leave the game, Daniel Robertson, who was ill, in the second and Yandy Diaz, with some kind of leg injury, in the eighth.

And Snell pretty much took it from there.

Snell retired the first 12, including a strikeout of Ian Desmond to end the second after not getting the call from first base umpire Joe West on a check swing appeal and throwing up his arms in frustration.

The chance for perfection ended when he allowed a soft single to right to Trevor Story to start the fifth. He didn’t give up much else, a one-out walk in the sixth to No. 8 hitter Chris Iannetta and a two-out ground ball single in the seventh to Story before ending his night striking out David Dahl.

For the night, Snell threw 102 pitches, with 67 for strikes, and 25 on swing and misses.

And he did sequence, and mix, his pitches better, throwing 36 fastballs, 28 curves, 22 changeups, 16 sliders.

Looking back at the opening day outing, Snell was most upset for relying on his curveball too much, and throwing it when the Astros hitters were expecting it.

"I need to mix some pitches up, attack like I do, use the fastball more,'' he said Monday. "I like how I was in the zone. There were two batters I was pretty bad on. But I like how I was in the zone. I felt very comfortable, I was happy with that. Just attack like I do, mix pitches and pitch like I know I can.''

Snell planned to draw on a 2016 start against the Rockies in Colorado, when he worked six no-run, one-hit innings and struck out nine.

“They have a tough lineup, another big-league lineup that I’m excited to face,'' Snell said. "I faced them before, a majority of these guys so I’m happy with that, knowing that. But these guys, they’ve all evolved, they’ve all gotten better. That was two years ago. But looking at them now there’s a lot of similarities from what I’ve already seen. But I’m excited to get going, excited to face them.’’

He also figure to benefit from watching Monday’s game, getting a better sense of what some of the unfamiliar hitters did at the plate, how they reacted to certain pitches and how they could be best attacked, wanting “to really make sure my game plan is as strong as I think it is.''

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The days since the Thursday opener had been long, as he was limited to leading cheers from the dugout. Not that watching was too terrible as the Rays won the next four going into Tuesday. “That was awesome,'' he said. "To see everyone play as good as they played and the pitchers pitch as good as they pitched, the bullpen do what everyone knows they can do it was awesome, I enjoyed it a lot. And it just made me more hungry to get better.'’

Stacking the lineup with seven consecutive righthanders (eight overall), the Rays got started right away as they loaded the bases on a walk by leadoff man Diaz, a one-out single by Daniel Robertson and a walk to Avisial Garcia. A force out at the plate after a Mike Zunino infield grounder was over-turned by manager Kevin Cash’s replay challenge to instead yield the first run, then a single to left by Guillermo Heredia made it 3-0.

Freeland, fourth in the NL Cy Young last year and on a team-record tying nine-game winning streak, didn’t make it through the fifth. The Rays added a run in the sixth on another big hit by Kevin Kiermaier, a two-out double, and a single by Christian Arroyo, who was called up Monday to replace injured Joey Wendle.

The Rays were down another two men by the end of Tuesday. Robertson was pinch-hit for Brandon Lowe. Diaz was replaced at second base by, in a phrase odd to type, pinch-runner Ji-Man Choi. Wilmer Font replaced Snell and worked the final two innings.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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