TORONTO — Kevin Cash had reasons for taking Blake Snell out Saturday after six dazzling innings and 82 pitches in a game the Rays led at the time but eventually lost to the Blue Jays 3-1.
And, if you view that decision as what cost the Rays the game, you’re probably not going to like them.
In short, managing the 26-year-old ace’s workload over the course of the season takes priority and they were determined, despite holding a 1-0 lead, to stick to a plan formulated in spring training.
“Blake threw a tremendous ball game. He probably had more in the tank,’’ the Rays manager said. “But I like the way that we have stayed consistent to our thought process coming out of the gate. … The thought is we’re going to benefit from that throughout the season.’’
Snell had thrown 102 and 100 pitches in his previous two starts, and was working Saturday on the standard four days’ rest rather than an extra day as the Rays prefer to give him and their other starters when possible.
As a result, pitching coach Kyle Snyder decided going into the game that six innings and/or 85 pitches was going to be the limit.
“We want to win the marathon not the sprint,’’ Snyder said. “As important as pitching and the health of a staff is in 2019, I’m always going to err on the side of being conservative with our guys. That was the case last year, and I’m not going to change this year.’’
So no matter that Snell took a no-hitter into the sixth, losing it on a one-out single by ex-Rays catcher Luke Maile after allowing only one other baserunner on a walk in a stellar outing that included nine strikeouts and 19 swing-and-misses.
And no matter that the Rays were clinging to the slim lead with a chance for a sixth straight win to extend their franchise-best start and AL East lead.
There was no apparent injury, illness or other reason, just their commitment not to by swayed by the situation and to stick to their preordained plan.
“If we let our emotions get into it with every decision, we’re probably not going to make the best decisions,’’ Cash said. “We have a lot of conversations leading up to series, leading up before games, and this particular conversation was a conversation that we were having coming out of spring training, right at the end, knowing that we were going to do everything we can to stay consistent with the thoughts that we had.
“But it’s not easy. I’m not going to say that.’’
Plus, Cash did concede, if the no-hitter had been intact, then it might have been a tougher call after all: “I’m not going to lie, Maile’s hit probably played a little role in that, made the decision easier.’’
Snell stood tall at his locker and said he was fine with the decision, with the validation of winning the Cy Young Award last season under their handling.
“It was a shorter week for me to get ready,’’ he said. “This is their plan, and I believe in it 100 percent. I think it’s all about longevity.’’
But even in the moment?
“I go by the simple fact that I believe in Kyle Snyder and whatever he tells me to do, that’s what I’m going to go with,’’ Snell said. “So I’m going to compete as long as I’m going to compete; my mind doesn’t waver on that. And I trust him because he’s looking out for what’s best for me. He always has. And he always will.’’
That all can sound good.
And, to be fair, if Chaz Roe had come in and zipped through the seventh instead of allowing hits to three of the first four hitters, including consecutive doubles by righty swingers Randall Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel that gave the Jays a 2-1 lead, the Snell decision wouldn’t have been as glaring.
Or if the Rays had put up some more runs of their own, especially in the eighth when Mike Zunino led off with a triple and they didn’t score.
But it didn’t work out that way, and Snell’s departure was the most popular subject. And not only among the media and fans.
“I was a little bit surprised,’’ centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said, “but I was telling myself there is probably some reason for it. It’s just about trusting guys that go after your starters, and it didn’t work out for us today.’’
As a result, there are some gnawing questions.
Would throwing another 10 or 15 pitches really have made that much of a difference in Snell’s health over a full season? Could they have let Snell start the seventh, with dangerous Justin Smoak leading off, and see how the inning unfolded? Doesn’t it matter that Snell will get the extra day before his next scheduled start on Friday against the Red Sox? Are the Rays getting too far ahead of themselves in thinking about backing the starters off now, as Snyder said, so they can handle a long postseason run in October?
“I understand that,’’ Cash said of the second-guessing. “Believe me, we like to have Blake on the mound.’’
Just not, on this day anyway, for more than 82 pitches.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.