ST. PETERSBURG — Let’s start with the obvious.
The Rays wouldn’t let Blake Snell pitch Wednesday with a broken toe if they and he didn’t feel as close to absolutely positively sure as they could that it’s the right move.
Not with a 26-year-old ace lefty who just won the first of what could be several Cy Young awards. And not with him due a guaranteed $50 million under the new contract they just signed him to last month.
“I feel good,’’ Snell said Tuesday. “I feel able to pitch. I feel able to run. So just told them I’m ready to go and made a decision with them that Wednesday would be a good day to start and get going.’’
That doesn’t mean something can’t go wrong either.
That the right fourth toe won’t hurt worse when Snell goes all out in competitor mode. That his foot gets hit by a ball or stepped on while covering first base or home plate. Or that, worst case, he alters his delivery and injures something else. (There are past tales of such torment, most famously Dizzy Dean, whose broken toe led to shoulder and arm problems that cut short his career.)
Just the Rays have put a lot of time and thought into this decision, as they do on most, and feel pretty strongly it’s the correct move for Snell and for the team.
They didn’t have a lot of proof, basically basing their decision off a 20-pitch bullpen session he threw on Saturday. They gave Snell a couple days to be sure, and when he tossed a few pitches off the mound Monday they confirmed.
“We’re confident with what he’s done throwing, and especially (pitching) off the mound, it’s not hindering his delivery, there’s no mechanical changes that are needed,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "So excited to get him back out there.’’
Why not give Snell a couple extra days to feel even better, and save him for the weekend series against the dastardly rival Red Sox, who were gleeful to get out of facing him Friday at the Trop?
There’s a couple reasons, related to how long it’s been since Snell last pitched, and to how much longer it would be for the other two starters to get their turn.
As it is, Charlie Morton already will be working on his sixth day Friday and Tyler Glasnow the same on Saturday. So rather then push them back further, the next slot for Snell after Wednesday would be Sunday, which would be too long.
Already, Wednesday will be 11 days since Snell last started, on April 13 in Toronto, when it seemed like the biggest concern was why in the world Cash took him out after six innings and 82 pitches.
Then came the unfortunate bathroom break the next night when he got home, decided after taking a shower to move the decorative stand in his bathroom that came apart when he picked it up and fell on his right foot.
With that much time off already, the Rays’ concern was that going any longer – Sunday would be 15 days - would either limit his workload even more than it will be Wednesday, when five innings and 75 pitches might be a lot, or require him to first make a rehab start.
“It backs everybody up,’’ Cash said. “And if Blake waits 15 days we’re talking about shaving more pitches off his outing. It was either pitch or rehab. He’s totally ready to pitch. It’s a short enough time.’’
Cash pointed to last season, when the Rays put Snell on the then-disabled list with shoulder fatigue following his 39-pitch outing in the July 17 All-Star Game, then brought him back, cautiously, to pitch Aug. 4, a gap of 18 days. He was limited to four innings and 59 pitches in his first game back, and didn’t get back to six innings and 100 pitches until his fourth.
“This being a toe, you feel that much better about it,’’ Cash said.
Snell knows he won’t be pain free, but said the toe bothers him more when he’s doing anything else than when he’s planting that foot on the mound to pitch. He will wear a rubber pad around it inside his Nike cleats, but said otherwise he won’t take any extra precautions.
“(The pain is) still there, but it’s definitely bearable,’’ he said. “It’s not anything I can’t handle. Pitching feels better than walking, so that helps.’’
Snell admitted he was surprised at how quickly he felt better.
“The first couple days it was like, no shot I throw because it actually hurt a lot,’’ he said. “But once the swelling went down I was able to just take whatever the foot is giving me.’’ And once he tested it throwing off the mound, he knew for sure. “It felt good,’’ he said. “Everything felt normal. Didn’t feel like I was trying to compensate or anything so I was happy with that. …
“We felt very comfortable in knowing that there’s not a lot of risk with it. … That’s why me telling them and me being 100 percent confident what I was telling them, and from what they saw as well, they were able to say Wednesday was the day that all of us believe in. And think I’ll be 100 percent Blake.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.