MINNEAPOLIS — A reflective Blake Snell stood at his locker late Tuesday night following the Rays’ 9-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins and tried to put another ugly pitching line into perspective.
“I felt really good,” Snell said. “I can’t lie. I really do feel good. Result wise, yeah it sucks. ... I can’t be too hard on myself. I’ve been very hard on myself.”
Snell’s struggles this month continued as he allowed seven runs and the Twins tagged him for 11 hits over 3 1/3 innings. Over five June starts, Snell has seen his ERA increase nearly two full runs from 3.06 to 5.01.
"I want to succeed so bad, and for me not to succeed the way I want to, it's tough," Snell said. "It's tough to sleep, it's tough to do things right and still do wrong. It's very tough. But I know how good I am and I know how hard I work that I know I'm going to come through this and be a better player from it."
The 26-year-old often talks about learning from his failures. And he knew going into Tuesday’s start that he had been leaning too much on his off-speed pitches, particularly his curveball. So against the Twins, he focused on attacking the strike zone with his fastball.
"I was in the zone too much to a fault this outing, but yeah, it's all about learning," Snell said. "The Twins, they can hit, they really can hit. I'm confident with everything I threw today. I'm happy with everything I did. The only thing I'm not happy with is my results."
A step forward?
“Yeah, of course,” Snell said. “I threw like 80 percent strikes, I attacked them and I made them hit the pitches I wanted them to hit and it just went their way.”
His previous two starts, Snell was plagued by control issues, in part because he was leaning two much on his offspeed pitches. He was coming off the shortest start of his career, a one-third inning outing against the Yankees in which he struggled to locate his curveball and changeup and walked four of the seven hitters he faced on his way to allowing six runs.
He’s admitted he wanted to throw his fastball more, make hitters respect it, but still fell back on his curveball, slider and changeup instead of the nasty high-90s fastball that jams hitters.
Snell arrived at Target Field early on Tuesday with a clear head. He saw the Twins taking early batting practice against a curveball pitching machine, which emphasized even more that his solution was in throwing his fastball.
Snell threw 52 fastballs, including 16 of his first 18. And the free-swinging Twins didn't square the pitch up often, hitting 20 foul balls.
Just four of the 11 hits off Snell qualified as hard-hit balls (exit velocities of 95 mph or over).
"We know they're a good hitting team, but you scratch your head a little bit about Blake and his struggles right now," manager Kevin Cash said. "They're there, so we've got to do everything we can to help him get out of it. He's got to do some stuff on his own. At least encouraged that the strike throwing was better."
What might have hurt Snell most were the five two-strike hits he allowed, four of which came in a three-run fourth inning.
“That’s a sign of a sign that not much is going his way,” Cash said.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop opened the third by golf-swinging a low curveball an estimated 408 feet for a solo homer, beginning a stretch of five hits in a six-batter span. Four of those hits came with two-strikes.
"I went hard in and that's where I kind of messed up a little bit," Snell said. "That's how they got their jam hits, 0-2. I needed to go up, extend the zone better."
Snell wouldn't get out of the fourth after that inning began with five of six batters reaching base on a double, three singles and a walk.
The Rays (45-34) have lost 10 of their past 14 games. Tuesday’s loss ensured the Rays would have a losing record on their three-city, 10-game, 11-day road trip to New York, Oakland and Minnesota.
Snell is such a big part of the Rays' success moving forward, and when he hit an extra gear last season, the team followed.
The Rays need that again. As a team, they are 10-14 in the month of June. Snell’s ERA in five June starts is 11.42.
Snell already allowed more earned runs this season (44) in 16 starts than he did during his entire Cy Young season last year (38 in 31 starts), but he believes enduring this stretch might end up being a better learning experience than last year’s breakout season.
"I know how failing can really help you become really great and I know how much it can help you become even worse," Snell said. "With me knowing that, I know I'm going to become better and that I'm going to learn a lot from this and this is just a short stint that's probably going to teach me more than I probably learned last year. So it's important that I learn a lot from this."
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.