Fear not Rays fans, Blake Snell is back in charge

Tampa Bay’s ace gets his first win in nearly a month with six dominant innings of one-hit ball against the Diamondbacks.
Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell flirted with a no-hitter in a 12-1 victory against Arizona on Monday night. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell flirted with a no-hitter in a 12-1 victory against Arizona on Monday night. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published May 7, 2019|Updated May 7, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — You were right to worry about the Rays offense when Austin Meadows went down. You still have every reason to question the depth of the bullpen as the innings begin to pile up.

But fretting over a couple of shaky starts by Blake Snell?

Silly, silly, silly.

No matter what the numbers looked like on the scoreboard in recent weeks, there is only a handful of pitchers in the world who can throw a baseball with the velocity, control and bite of Snell.

Related: RELATED: Rays trade reliever Wilmer Font to Mets, recall Casey Sadler

And if you need verification, just call the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Snell snuffed out any lingering doubts about the direction of his post-Cy Young Award encore season on Monday night by briefly flirting with a no-hitter in a 12-1 victory against Arizona.

“Heck yeah, that’s the Blake Snell I remember hitting against,’’ said Rays catcher Mike Zunino, who had one hit and two strikeouts in five plate appearances against Snell while with Seattle. “I would have wanted no part of any of those at-bats tonight. He had all four pitches working, he was fun to watch.’’

Related: RELATED: Erik Neander likes what he sees, but says there’s ‘some sizing up to do’

It’s not like anyone was truly doubting Snell’s ability, but this is the sort of thing that happens when you get spoiled by greatness.

You expect it nightly. You expect it batter to batter and pitch to pitch. Snell was so dominant for so much of 2018, it was almost stunning to see him leave back-to-back starts without getting through the fourth inning.

Related: RELATED: How Tyler Glasnow became so good this season

You wondered if the broken toe that sidelined him for 10 days in April had changed his delivery. You wondered if the accolades of last year had put undue pressure on a 26-year-old. You wondered if it was time to worry about Tampa Bay’s fortunes after Snell went nearly a month between victories.

“It looked like vintage Blake tonight,’’ said manager Kevin Cash. “That’s very, very encouraging.’’

Snell was dominant from the first pitch, striking out four of the first five batters he faced. He threw fastballs for strikes and then punched hitters out with a nasty curveball when he got ahead in the count.

He had retired 17 batters in succession before No. 9 hitter Ildemaro Vargas punched a single between the shortstop and the third baseman with two outs in the sixth inning.

The left-hander left after six shutout innings with the announced crowd of 8,124 giving him a standing ovation.

“Blake looks like he’s back on track which is a great sign for us because we need him,’’ said leftfielder Tommy Pham. “It looked like he was attacking guys once he got ahead. He wasn’t playing around.’’

Snell blamed his two subpar outings against Kansas City last week on not repeating his delivery, and telegraphing off-speed pitches.

“It was cool to just have a week to think about what I needed to do, how I needed to prepare and get into that groove,’’ Snell said.

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Snell’s no-hit bid was the only suspense remaining after the second inning.

The Rays, who had a 1-0 lead in the first on a Brandon Lowe walk, a Pham single and a Ji-Man Choi groundout, blew the game open in the next inning.

Two bloop singles, a hit-by-pitch and a walk put the Rays up 2-0 before Pham delivered Tampa Bay’s first grand slam of the season. Pham’s shot to centerfield had an exit velocity of 109.1 mph.

In 29 previous plate appearances with the bases loaded, Pham had a .320 batting average with 21 RBIs but had never hit a grand slam.

“He’s a huge presence in our lineup,’’ Cash said. “He can do damage with base hits, with the high average. He can do damage hitting balls in gaps. Knock them out of the ballpark. He works pitchers, he draws walks. He does everything.’’

Contact John Romano at Follow at @romano_tbtimes.