NEW YORK — Even worse than being swept out of Yankee Stadium this week — thanks in part to Wednesday’s 12-1 loss — was how the Rays were dismantled by New York.
Even the best teams go through losing stretches over the course of a 162-game season, and the Rays are certainly experiencing that right now. But there’s no way they can compete with the Yankees for the AL East without a better version of Blake Snell.
The Rays hope Wednesday marked rock bottom for last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner.
Snell gave up six runs, two hits and walked four in just one-third of an inning, his shortest outing in 89 major-league starts. Since his major-league debut in 2016, Snell had never failed to get out of the first inning.
“It’s obviously unfortunate,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You lose two games and then you get Blake coming in to pitch and you go into it thinking he’s going to give you a chance, and it just didn’t happen. … It’s a good thing that this loss only counts as one and not more, because sometimes it feels like it should count more.”
Snell trailed after three batters into the game, allowing a three-run shot to Gary Sanchez, his fourth career home run off Snell.
Otherwise, Snell was his own worst enemy, battling his control by missing corners to the tune of four walks, leaning heavily on his curveball and changeup.
“With as many offspeed pitches as I threw today, I’ve got to be more aggressive with the fastball,” said Snell, the first reigning Cy Young winner to allow at least six runs and get no more than one out in a start, according to STATS. “At the end of the day, I’ve just got to do it. Whatever’s making me pitch the way I’m pitching, I’ve got to snap out of it and be more aggressive, more in the zone, and make them come to me. Just got to learn how to get better.”
Snell faced just seven batters, leaving with the bases loaded and having thrown 39 pitches, 19 for strikes. That forced the bullpen to account for 7⅓ innings. Reliever Colin Poche allowed all three inherited runners to score.
Losing three in the Bronx wasn’t the way to start what might be the toughest road stretch of the season. The Rays left New York on a cross-country flight to Oakland for a four-game series that starts Thursday night, then play three at Minnesota, starting Tuesday, to finish a three-city, 10-game, 11-day road trip.
The Rays have lost seven of nine to the Yankees this season and are just 1-5 at Yankee Stadium.
They were outscored 21-4 in the three-game series. In the series opener Monday, Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout. After Tuesday’s 6-3 loss, Cash had to defend giving Ryan Yarbrough an early hook and letting Chaz Roe turn a one-run lead into a two-run deficit.
Wednesday’s loss gave the Rays (43-31) their largest deficit this season, 3½ games, to the division-leading Yankees (46-27). Entering Wednesday, the Rays and Yankees had been within three games of each other for nearly two months, since the end of play on April 21.
The Rays lost their 14th series in their past 15 visits to Yankee Stadium, but their woes don’t stop there. After entering play May 31 with a 35-19 record, they have played mostly mediocre baseball, losing 12 of their past 20, including four of their past five.
In four June starts, Snell has allowed 16 earned runs over 14 innings for a 10.29 ERA. He allowed six runs in two of those four starts.
“I’m doing it to myself,” said Snell, who is 4-6 with a 4.40 ERA. “I’m going to get out of it. I’m confident with the way I’m pitching and throwing the ball, but today, I was trying to make them chase too early without establishing the fastball and making them even swing at it. That’s my fault. Honestly, I should know better, so that’s frustrating for me.”
Of the 39 pitches Snell threw, 24 were offspeed.
“I’d like to see him attack better with strikes,” Cash said when asked whether Snell needed to establish his fastball more. “I’m just not going to get into the second-guessing of the pitches, and I understand why it’s talked about. You go back and look at September for him and his pitch distribution was the same and obviously nobody said anything during that period. I think it’s more commanding whatever pitch he chooses to throw.”
After Poche allowed a D.J. LeMahieu two-run single in the first to give the Yankees a 6-0 lead, they were held hitless for the next 5⅔ innings before they put up a six spot in the seventh off Rays reliever Oliver Drake, capped by Gleyber Torres’ grand slam. The Yankees have homered in 22 consecutive games, three shy of the franchise record from 1941.
The Rays’ only run was on Tommy Pham’s two-out RBI double in the fifth, which came after Yankees starter CC Sabathia issued back-to-back walks, to Ji-Man Choi and Daniel Robertson. Sabathia held the Rays to one run on three hits over six innings, striking out seven and walking three as the 38-year-old left-hander picked up career win No. 250.
“Ran into a tough one today, especially early on in the game,” rightfielder Austin Meadows said. “They set the tone early with the homer from Sanchez. For us, we just didn’t respond today, and that’s baseball. We’re going to continue to play, continue to have fun and try to get back on the streak.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.