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Lockout makes things really weird for Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder

Rays Tales | Normally, there is regular communication with pitchers and some in-person visits. But this year, it’s lockdown quiet. Plus rumblings.
Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder's success stems from close relationships with his pitchers, and he is quickly losing invaluable time that won’t be made up.
Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder's success stems from close relationships with his pitchers, and he is quickly losing invaluable time that won’t be made up. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Feb. 19

ST. PETERSBURG — It was during a relaxed bullpen session last January at Tropicana Field that rookie Shane McClanahan caught Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder off guard by throwing a slider. A really good one, at that.

The pitch hadn’t been in McClanahan’s repertoire in the minors. But once he showed Snyder he could repeat it, they worked hard — and quickly — to make the pitch a prime weapon, one the talented lefty threw nearly 35 percent of the time in 2021.

There won’t be any similarly pleasant surprises this year, as those informal throwing sessions before spring training were lost to the lockout. So, too, are the first 10 days of workouts, plus the first week of exhibitions, and likely more.

Related: No punking, Rays' Brett Phillips is up to some new tricks

For Snyder, whose success as a coach stems from close relationships with his pitchers, that is invaluable time that won’t be made up.

“That’s my favorite time of year, and it’s gone,” he said. “It just stinks. But I get it.”

In a normal offseason, Snyder is in regular communication with his pitchers: texting, calling, sharing and reviewing video of bullpen sessions. He often makes trips to visit and watch them throw. He even had planned to travel to Colombia this winter to see Luis Patino.

By the time camp opens, as it would have last week, Snyder usually knows not only how his guys are doing but what they are thinking. He has a pretty good handle on what changes to mechanics, pitch design and usage are realistic and how best to use each pitcher. He also has firsthand status reports on those coming back from injury, of which the Rays have several.

Related: Pitcher Tyler Zombro on track to return from traumatic injury

Instead, Snyder is left to make plans — such as the rotation for the first week of spring games — and then constantly having to remake them. He is basically running on a treadmill, working to be ready to get started within days of a settlement, even though he has no idea if it will be days, weeks or months away. Or, how long of a spring teams will have. (The rushed start to the pandemic-delayed 2020 season may provide a framework.)

Several pitchers have said not being in contact with Snyder is one of the oddest parts of the lockout. The feeling is mutual.

“It’s been weird in a number of ways,” Snyder said. “In the sense that, with time spent, emotions grow. You start to build relationships and friendships, and you have your normal offseasons. ... It’s what we’re used to. It’s a byproduct of kind of the culture within the industry, and the amount of time that’s spent over the course of 8½ months, 12-14 hours a day together, all of those things.

“You typically go through your normal run up to spring training with these guys as they get the ball back in their hands and go through their prep work, and I think it’s been awkward on both sides. I think there’s a lot that we missed.”

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Snyder made a point to provide as much information and guidance to his pitchers before the owners implemented the lockout on Dec. 2, knowing they wouldn’t be allowed to communicate afterward and would only get updates on injured players through private physical therapists.

Snyder knows there is much he won’t know until he sees the pitchers in person in camp.

“It’s been an adjustment all the way around,” he said.

Drug trial tie-in

The Rays got an unexpected — and surprising — mention in last week’s trial of former Angels executive Eric Kay, who was found guilty of two drug charges related to the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs. First baseman C.J. Cron testified that he bought oxycodone pills from Kay seven times when he played with the Angels and once again in 2018 after being traded to Tampa Bay, with Kay delivering the pills to the Rays hotel in Anaheim and payment being made at Angel Stadium. Cron said he had no other source of drugs with the Rays or elsewhere.

Good deeds

The Rays did a lot of good deeds Thursday, with a day-long list of 19 Random Acts of Kindness throughout Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Stops included donations to charitable groups such as the Ronald McDonald House, St. Vincent de Paul and Trinity Café; food deliveries to employees at the Crisis Center and flowers to staff and patients at Bayfront Health; snacks and team swag for rec league softball and baseball players; and bills paid for customers at several restaurants and a grocery store.

Rays radio broadcasters Neil Solondz (center) and Andy Freed (right) hand out snacks and Rays swag to softball players Thursday at St. Petersburg's North Shore Park as part of the team's Random Acts of Kindness.
Rays radio broadcasters Neil Solondz (center) and Andy Freed (right) hand out snacks and Rays swag to softball players Thursday at St. Petersburg's North Shore Park as part of the team's Random Acts of Kindness. [ TYLER SCHANK | Tampa Bay Rays ]

Rays rumblings

Manager Kevin Cash and his coaches (including new additions Dan DeMent, Rick Knapp, Brady North, Chris Prieto) will gather in Port Charlotte this week, providing support and help to the minor-league staff during a minicamp for players reporting early to minor-league spring training, which opens March 1. … Snyder has been impressed with several young minor-leaguers he has seen throw in Port Charlotte, most notably Taj Bradley and Seth Johnson, who was a popular ask by teams at the trade deadline, and praised the work of coordinators Rolando Garza and Jorge Moncada. … The Rays’ Stuart Sternberg is not on the owners’ bargaining committee, which will join the talks in New York this week, as negotiations head into a final week to reach resolution before regular-season games are lost. … After his lost 2021 season back with the Rays, Chris Archer is a free agent looking for a job post-lockout, saying he is feeling good and throwing well, with a Twitter video of a recent workout in Tampa showing him hitting 93 mph. … Another ex-Ray in good shape and looking for work is righty-hitting outfielder Tommy Pham, who said he’d be interested in a return to Tampa Bay and open to playing first base if needed. … USF coach Billy Mohl tweeted praise for Yankees stars Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and others for having good character and being great ambassadors and human beings while working out on the Bulls fields. … Good to see longtime Tampa Bay area resident Jim Riggleman back in the game, hired at age 69 to manage independent league Billings (Mont.).

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