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Jays 5, Rays 2: When Snell doesn’t command his fastball

Bad things happen.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The one really big problem with walking a tightrope is that sometimes you fall off.

That’s what happened to Blake Snell tonight in the top of the third inning. Snell had seemed to be on the attack for the first two innings, successfully pitching around a two-out walk to Jose Bautista in the first and then working a clean second. But things went awry in the third inning in a big way.

With one out, Darwin Barney—the ninth-hitter—lined a single into left to turn the lineup over to Steve Pearce. Snell managed to strike Pearce out swinging in a full count at a curve just below the zone, but that had as much to do with Pearce doing a bad job as it did with Snell doing a good job. Snell only threw one strike out of eight pitches. Three of them missed badly.

Snell seemed to be having trouble getting on top of his pitches, and he continued to miss—largely up and away—to Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. They declined to bail him out as Pearce had, loading the bases.

Pitching coach Jim Hickey came out to talk to his young pitcher, and for one pitch (a 96 mph fastball right on the outside corner) it seemed like he had said the magic words. But the second pitch to designated-hitter Kendrys Morales was the fall.

I think the pitch was supposed to be down and in. But Snell missed, as he had done fairly often to that point in the game. Except rather than the miss being a relatively-harmless ball, this time it was a was a grooved fastball directly over the plate.

Snell has the stuff to pitch himself out of a lot of trouble. He did only give up three hits in 6.2 innings. But he also walked five batters (despite a generous-if-inconsistent zone from homeplate umpire Stu Scheurwater). That’s not a good way to live.

Pitching opposite Snell was American Hero Marcus Stroman, a pitcher who, like Snell, has sky-high potential when he can command his strong, deep arsenal, but can occasionally lose that command. The Rays actually did a decent job getting on base against Stroman, piecing together six hits and two walks over six and a third innings, but the groundball is often Stroman’s friend, and the Rays hit into four double plays over those first seven innings. That is also not a good way to live.

Close Play; Close Call

Steven Souza Jr. had a great game, smacking two doubles (one at 116 mph, allegedly) and a single. But the play that will dominate discussion came in the bottom of the fifth when with one out Souza tried to come home from third on a Tim Beckham chopper down the first base line.

Stroman fielded the chopper quickly, but his throw home was high and a bit up the third base line, pulling Russel Martin into the basepath and making him jump. Souza slid feet-first, and hard. Martin got the tag and the out, landing on Souza’s shin in the process. While Cash challenged (in case it might be overturned as an instance of the catcher blocking the plate), the out was confirmed.

Meanwhile, the often-injured Souza was helped off the field in some very understandable discomfort. Luckily for the Rays, he seemed to be okay, and continued to play the outfield, and looked fine running the bases later on in the game.

Some other notes:

  • Maybe the best indicator of Snell’s ineffectiveness was the lack of whiffs on his fastball. His four-seamer is hard and has a ton of rise. In the Rays’ pitching system, that’s an out pitch, especially when placed high in the zone. But to throw your high fastball by batters you have to set them up, and without good command Snell was never able to bring that weapon to the table. Last season Snell got a whiff on 8% of his fastballs and on 20% of the fastballs that drew a swing. But today he only managed to produce one whiff on 60 fastballs out of 20 swings.
  • Tommy Hunter, on the other hand, looked really good, mixing a mid-90s fastball with a good biting slider. He faced four batters, striking out three.
  • The most audible crowd voice on the broadcast was a Blue Jays fan. Very annoying.
  • Real nice play in the stands by a kid with a glove.