The first inning was an immediate test for Blake Snell. After a long at bat to the gifted Jose Altuve, Snell got him to chase a high fastball that would have been ball four. Snell worked to a 2-2 count against Alex Bregman, before changing speed with a curve. That won him a groundball down the third base line.
It was playable. Evan Longoria had it played. Until it bounced on the back lip of third base, and turned into a rolling grounder rather than a bouncing grounder. The change evaded Longoria and sent the grounder into the corner for a hard-luck double.
Bregman stole third, bringing the infield in. Then Snell placed a 2-1 fastball on the inner edge of the plate and Yulieski Gurriel went all “good hitter” on it, pulling his hands in and hitting a fly ball off the wall in center.
I’m constantly on the “Blake Snell mentality and command watch” these days. He faced multiple tests in his last outing and passed them all. This was another. Would he start nibbling?
No. Snell struck the next to batters out (meaning that he had struck out the side), making great use of his changeup on the outer edge. Well done.
“He’s clicked,” I thought. Optimism usually hurts eventually, but at this point it felt good.
The Rays offense answered in the top of the second. Brad Miller left off with a walk, and Wilson Ramos reached on catcher’s interference—a late hack caught the glove of a reaching Evan Gattis. Two batters later, Corey Dickerson, at the top of the lineup, singled into short right field, where Derek Fisher lacks a prototypical rightfield arm. The Rays ran on him, and Miller made it home standing up.
After crusing through the second inning, Snell made a mistake in the third, and it wasn’t the nibbling kind. He started Altuve off with a changeup, left up and over the middle of the plate. That’s the kind of pitch that gets hammered. Because of the speed difference, that pitch is usually hammered to the pull side of the field, but Altuve saw the pitch so well that he adjusted down and drove the 87 mph changeup the other way and well over the right-field wall.
That was a bad pitch. Altuve is a good hitter.
Which makes it an especially bad idea to walk the nine hitter, Jake Marisnick, ahead of Altuve, which is what Snell did to start the fifth inning. Altuve pulled a low fastball into left field to put runners on first and second with no outs. After being pretty decent through the first four, Snell’s command seemed to have taken a step back this inning, and Bregman worked his way into a full count.
Snell’s go-to pitch when he needs a strike and everyone knows it is his changeup, and in this instance he grooved one.
That was also a bad pitch, and quite honestly, the Rays are lucky it only became an RBI grounder. The game could very easily have been 5-1, rather than 3-1. Cash pulled Snell for Brad Boxberger, and all Snell could do was slam his glove in the dugout. Boxberger worked out of the jam, and then dominated the following inning. Boxy gets major credit for keeping the Rays in this one.
And for Snell’s part, it was another short outing. While the first four innings were mostly good, despite some high pitch counts, the fifth was not good, and it could have ended up worse than it did, leaving Snell pretty much where he’s been all year long. We can see the potential. We really have to hope it will click.
The Rays had a hole to crawl out of and they started in the sixth inning, Steven Souza lined a home run into the corner, and trotted slowly around the bases. The Astros crowd booed him, thinking he was taking too much time. Come on guys. Do you not see the limp? Do you not see how slow he was charging the ball in right field a couple innings earlier? Give the man his time.
The ‘Stros pulled McHugh to start the seventh inning, and turned the game over to their newly-acquired bullpen piece, Franciso Liriano. They may be feeling buyer’s remorse. With one out, Dickerson grounded his third single of the game, and Duda walked. Liriano was replaced by Chris Devenski’s, but the new pitcher could not hold the inherited runners the way Boxberger had earlier.
Longoria grounded sharply to shortstop, and Bregman could not handle it, continuing the run of iffy Astros defense in this series—losing Carlos Correa has hurt them in that department. Dickerson scored on the error.
A Logan Morrison strikeout brought Souza to the plate again. It’s been very clear, watching Souza run, that he’s in pain, but boy are we glad that he’s toughing it out. Because there’s nothing wrong with his bat. He lined a double into left to put the Rays up by two.
The bullpen held.
Some other links:
- “When a hitter swings at a fastball that far off the plate, it tells you that he’s sitting fastball. He sees the fastball and his lies light up, meanwhile it’s a foot off the plate.” - BA dropping pitching knowledge in the first inning.
- I agree with BA. Minute Maid Park looks real nice.
- Corey Dickerson started the game with a grounder, off the end of the bat, the other way, against the shift. Dickerson had no idea where the ball had gone. He seemed to think he had pulled it, and he almost stopped running when he couldn’t find it in play. #usingthewholefield
- Lucas Duda made a really nice defensive play at first base in the fourth inning to dive and snag a hard grounder. Not what he was acquired for, but a nice bonus.
- Then Duda made another nice play in the seventh to come off the base, receive an errant throw, and tag a runner. Extremely calm over there at first. This guy isn’t supposed to be a good fielder, but you sure can’t tell it right now.
- Let’s talk about the bottom of the seventh inning. Sergio Romo came on to pitch for the Rays. With the Rays bullpen taxed, he had to. Rays fans, unsure of what their team has in Romo, were holding their breath. He quickly got the first two outs, before the next two batters hit weak ground balls that found holes. Unlucky. The Astros pulled off a double steal to put the tying run in scoring position. Romo got ahead of Gurriel 1-2. Good. He threw a fine slider below the zone, but Gurriel went down and got it, lining it sharply into left field. Unlucky for Romo, good from Gurriel. But Dickerson, the slimmed-down, outfield playing, All-Star Designated Hitter streaked on a good line, leaped for all he was worth, threw up his glove, and snagged it. Good from Dickerson, lucky for Romo, unlucky for Gurriel. Sometimes it evens out.
- In the top of the eighth inning, Dickerson caught Gattis full in the head with his back-swing. He has a long back-swing, and I also think Gattis was playing close to the plate (see the catcher’s interference earlier), so a combination of factors. Ouch. I’m going to continue to beat my unsubstantiated drum that teams trying to maximize catcher framing are placing their catchers too far forward, leading to a greater number of potentially dangerous situations.
- In the ninth inning, Souza got out of the way of an inside pitch, and then took off his elbow pad and tried to play like it had hit him. The home plate umpire had the call right all along, but, taking the cue from his player, Kevin Cash issued a challenge. It wasn’t even close. Never in doubt. Big-ol’ waste of time, but somewhat endearing. Souza gonna Souz. He did eventually walk.
- Brad Miller hit the ball hard today without much to show for it.
- It’s good to win three out of four against the team with the best record in the American League.
- I am happy to have seen the last of Jose Altuve for a little while. Dude can hit.