Tuesday night was another late one for us Rays’ fans in the Eastern Time Zone, as Tampa Bay played the middle game of a three-game set in Oakland after winning a four-game series in Anaheim. Despite it being a late night, Blake Snell hoped to pitch well enough to keep it from being a long night as well.
The Frustrating Case of Blake Snell
Watching Snell pitch on Tuesday night epitomized the frustrating combination of potential and fallibility that is Blake Snell. In fact, I’ve been trying to think of a Rays’ pitching prospect that has been this frustrating to watch.
There’s the potential in Blake Snell that pitched the first three innings of the game; the Snell that struck out six batters over that span, including three batters in a row. That Blake Snell had a devastating slider with an over-the-top delivery that was incredibly deceiving to A’s batters. That Snell had a strong fastball that he used to play off of the slider and change the eye level of a number of hitters. His only mistake in those first three innings was a ball left right where Khris Davis could crush one, a two-run shot to deep center. Not ideal, but forgivable to one of the top three home run hitters in the AL. That Snell looks like a fixture in the Rays’ rotation for years to come.
Then there’s the Snell that pitched the fourth inning. That Snell needed over 30 pitches to record three outs after allowing back-to-back walks to start the inning. After giving up those two free passes, Matt Chapman flew out to deep straight away center (I, and everyone in the Coliseum, thought that ball was going out) advancing Khris Davis to third. Snell’s very first pitch to catcher Josh Phegley was a slider that bounced a good two feet in front of home plate and all the way to the backstop. Wilson Ramos had no chance to make a good play on a ball that poorly thrown. Davis scored from third, putting the A’s up 3-2.
It’s that entire package that makes Snell so difficult to watch. It’s the plus strikeout potential and the plus stuff that gets us as Rays’ fans excited about his ceiling; however, it’s the facts like he hasn’t pitched six innings in a MLB game this season since his first game on April 6th, that he has 34 walks over just 56 innings of work, and that he can’t seem to be able to pitch through a lineup more than once, that has us very, very concerned.
Engage the Clutch!
They say the 27th out is the hardest to get, and the Rays proved that on Tuesday night!
First, major props need to be given to Erasmo Ramirez who came in to stop the bleeding and pitched three straight perfect innings in relief of Snell. That’s the kind of bullpen support the Rays need here in the second half and hopefully they can find more of before the trading deadline.
Oakland closer Santiago Casilla stepped into the game in the top of the ninth inning looking to shut down the middle of the Rays’ lineup and chalk up his 16th save of the year. He came so close, until he met Mallex Smith.
After getting Evan Longoria to ground out to third on a very Evan Longoria-esque play by Matt Chapman and Logan Morrison to strikeout swinging, Wilson Ramos laced a single to left-centerfield, and was pinch run for by Smith. You could tell Casilla was rattled by Smith’s presence and Smith smelled blood in the water. Casilla promptly channeled his inner Snell and bounced a pitch two feet in front of home plate and Smith quickly moved up to second. He then showed off his speed and heads up base-running by swiping third base, never even coming to a complete stop in his leadoff of second. The throw nearly beat him, but was well low and away from Chapman and ended up dribbling into foul territory.
Brad Miller came to the plate in yet another hero-making position in the ninth, but refused to give into temptation and swing at down and out pitches, instead drawing a walk on five pitches. His patience was quickly rewarded when Adeiny Hechavarria singled into right on the first pitch he saw, scoring Smith from third to tie the game. Not to be outdone, Shane Peterson took Casilla to a full count before singling on a liner to right field and scored Miller from second base, giving the Rays the 4-3 lead they needed to win the game and clinch the series!
All of that action with only one out left to go! In the words of Frankie Valli, “Oh, what a night!”