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Blake Snell struggles in return as Rays fall to Pirates

The Pirates’ David Freese scores on a Blake Snell wild pitch during the first inning against the Rays.
The Pirates’ David Freese scores on a Blake Snell wild pitch during the first inning against the Rays.
Published Jun. 29, 2017

PITTSBURGH

Blake Snell talked a good game ahead of his return to the Rays rotation Wednesday night, but he didn't pitch one.

Snell had a brutal first inning and a bad night overall, not showing much of the improvements he was touting and the Rays were expecting to see after his six-week exile to Triple-A Durham.

The four-run, 36-pitch first inning was a bad start as he lasted only five total in the 6-2 loss to the Pirates, allowing six runs, walking a season-high-matching five and throwing 98 pitches, 42 for balls.

In other words, he didn't look much better than before he was sent down in mid-May.

"I'm disappointed,'' Snell said. "I felt like I didn't apply what I was working so hard to do down in Durham.''

In turning back to Snell, and returning Erasmo Ramirez to the bullpen, the Rays were expecting considerably better, specifically in strike-throwing, from the guy who struggled to an 0-4, 4.71 mark in eight big-league starts, failing to get through six innings in his last seven before the demotion.

So in that regard, Wednesday was no better.

Manager Kevin Cash insisted there were some signs of progress, noting an uptick in velocity, increased sharpness to Snell's breaking ball and a better look to his delivery. He also attributed some of the messy first inning to Snell being over-amped about his return.

"Yes, I felt there was improvement, and I hope Blake felt that there was improvement,'' Cash said. "But there also needs to be considerably more improvement.''

For what it's worth, and that may not be much unless he gets better, Snell seemed quite aware of how bad he was.

"It's unacceptable,'' he said. "Trying to be way too cute when I need to do what I was doing in Durham.

"I've got to control the zone. For me to be successful I've got to control the zone. You can't allow five walks and expect to win. It's just not going to happen.

"I'm not happy about it. I'm disappointed. I know what I'm capable of, and to come back and do that, it's frustrating.''

The changes were small things but designed to have a big impact.

Triple-A pitching coach Kyle Snyder worked closely with Snell, implementing suggestions from big-league counterpart Jim Hickey, primarily to improve Snell's line to the plate by adjusting his stride so he didn't throw across his body as much, and in the process lengthening the stride, and increasing the percentage of fastballs he throws in the zone.

Snell said Tuesday that he felt the demotion was the right move and that the changes he made in the less pressurized enviroment worked, noting that his delivery was "more explosive" as it had been previously, that he was throwing more strikes and regained the confidence he could continue to do so back in the majors.

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And then he took the mound at PNC Park, the messy first inning putting the Rays in a 4-1 hole they couldn't escape, especially with a bad night at the plate, going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 men on.

Thing was, Snell was a strike away from getting out of the first inning unscathed. He got leadoff man Max Moroff to chase strike three, saw Josh Harrison bunt into the second out, throwing just five pitches.

Snell then had a 2-and-2 count on Andrew McCutchen but ended up walking him, then David Freese after another full count, and it quickly spiraled from there. He then gave up a double that scored one run and another walk, threw a wild pitch to let in another, then allowed a two-run single.

There was some good after that, which is what Snell and the Rays will latch on to, specifically how he rebounded from the rough first to set the Pirates down in order in the second and third.

But then a leadoff homer in the fourth accounted for the fifth run, and a one-out walk in the fifth led to the sixth.

"I was definitely excited to be back, but that's not an excuse,'' Snell said. "I've been here before, I need to do a lot better job of controlling counts, putting hitters away, not walking five. That's not acceptable.

"If I want to be gone soon, keep walking five.''

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