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Sweet Snell of success back into Rays season

The reigning AL Cy Young winner is what the team needs in playoff race.
Rays starter Blake Snell walks off after getting out of the fourth inning against the Rangers on Sunday, June 30, 2019, at Tropicana Field. Snell gave up a two-run homer to Joey Gallo but bounced back to finish strong with 12 strikeouts in six innings. [ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times]
Rays starter Blake Snell walks off after getting out of the fourth inning against the Rangers on Sunday, June 30, 2019, at Tropicana Field. Snell gave up a two-run homer to Joey Gallo but bounced back to finish strong with 12 strikeouts in six innings. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
Published Jun. 30, 2019|Updated Jul. 1, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Remember Blake Snell?

Remember Cy Young?

Just when things were beginning to get Cy old, Snell reminded us what the fuss was all about last season, maybe just in time to begin to salvage this one: a 12-strikeout, no-walks start that helped underwrite a 6-2 Rays victory Sunday at the Trop to take a series from the Rangers.

“We needed that,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He needed it just as much.”

Related: MORE RAYS: Tampa Bay has two All-Stars

Coming off consecutive hideous starts, including that one-out, six-run debacle in New York, we rediscovered the sweet Snell of success.

The Rays lefty banished his troubling first half of the season with six forceful innings against Texas. He didn’t tiptoe. Eleven of Snell’s 12 strikeouts came on his fastball. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 20 batters he faced, including his first nine and his last eight.

“Yeah, you can build on it,” Snell said.

The Rays can, too.

Snell had only victory in his past nine starts since May 12. His ERA ballooned to 5.01 after he was routed by the Yankees and Twins. He looked nothing like the pitcher who tore the American League to pieces last year.

Then came Sunday, when Snell made only one mistake, a fourth-inning slider that was hit for a two-run, 12,000-foot homer by All-Star slugger Joey Gallo, who deposited it into the Trop’s D-ring catwalk for a 2-1 lead.

But Snell’s feet never left the ground. He dug back in quickly, which hasn’t been his trademark this year as he has taken more and more time between pitches. Not so much Sunday.

“I thought he worked quicker,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “It seemed like when he made a bad pitch today, it almost helped him to restart and focus on the next one. As far as the ball, it was exploding out of his hand. Today was a big fastball day. When guys would get jumping, the changeup would be the equalizer or the slider would be the equalizer.”

The Rays picked Snell up with an RBI single and RBI triple from Kevin Kiermaier, a run-scoring double from Willy Adames and a Tommy Pham homer run. Snell’s fifth victory looked live several of those from his 21-5, 1.89 ERA Cy-winning season. It wasn’t lost on Cash, who watched on TV after getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the second inning.

Related: MORE RAYS: Tampa Bay routs Rangers to win three-game series

“He came out and he looked pretty determined,” Cash said. “Very determined, very committed to the zone. Efficiency always helps. Maybe we all got a little bit of a lesson (Saturday) from Brendan McKay about how that plays into success. (Snell) certainly did that today.”

Our mouths are still agape over the 23-year-old McKay’s wunderkind major-league debut on Saturday, retiring the first 16 batters. We’d be wise to remember that Snell was only 25 last year when he became the team’s resounding ace. His 5-7 record this year notwithstanding, Snell still thinks he’s close to his 2018 season, if not better, whether you believe him or not.

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“The results aren’t what you guys want to see, but the way I feel and what I’m doing, I believe it’s better than last year,” Snell said. Really, he did.

“Everything. Consistency, swing-and-miss strikes, less walks, contact. The only thing that’s bad is ERA and length of starts, so I’ve got to get better at that.”

Imagine if he does.

It’s hard to believe the Rays stayed in first place as long as they did without a working Snell, and how they remain within still-reasonable distance despite the torrid Yankees Union Jacking homers all over the Red Sox in London.

Related: MORE RAYS: Adames delivers, extends hot streak

It’s the pitching. Charlie Morton is a deserved All-Star. Tyler Glasnow should be coming back. McKay was spectacular his first time out. He and Snell should get the call, back to back, when the Yankees visit this week, though at the rate New York is playing long ball, the two of them might want to bring tranquilizer guns.

No matter. A spot-on Snell is just what the Rays need right about now in this baseball summer, even if it needs to be translated into French.

“He’s a Cy Young winner,” d’Arnaud said. “All of us are glad he’s on this team, and today was a big step for him in the right direction.”

And the Rays went with him. Funny how that works.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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