Admittedly a guy with a laid back nature, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell is “quietly” making noise in Major League Baseball.
Soon, his story will become a national one, bridging a gap between Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and Snell’s hometown, Seattle, Washington.
What is the left hand phenom, who was actually demoted to AAA last season, doing?
Snell tossed 7.1 innings Sunday against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros. He allowed four hits and one run, albeit a 7th inning home run, on his way to his 11th victory of the season.
Think about that. On July 1, Blake Snell had 11 wins.
How many pitchers have more, right now?
Luis Severino of the New York Yankees, who leads all of baseball with 13.
Snell is two back, next to Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and the Chicago Cubs’ Jon Lester. There is a Cy Young Award in that group and a guy that lost a close vote for one, himself.
Not that Blake Snell should pop up on your Cy Young ballot (yet). But on Sunday, the rosters for the 2018 All-Star game will be announced and Snell has every right to see his name next to the American League’s best pitchers.
Snell’s Rays teammate, catcher Wilson Ramos, will be the likely vote winner for the A.L. starting catcher. That’s two deserving Rays, contributing to a season that was supposed to be lost in March.
“I’m just focused on the next batter, what I need to do to not waver,” Snell said. “I’m focused on all the little things that will help me day to day and give me the best opportunity to have the best outcome.”
Ironically, Astros manager, A.J. Hinch, the American League skipper for the All-Star Game, was in the visiting dugout on Sunday, watching Snell strike out ten of his Astros hitters.
At this same moment last season, Snell was trying to re-establish himself at the Major League level.
Demoted to AAA Durham in mid-May, Snell was 0-4 in eight starts to begin the Rays season. Upon his return, the slump continued right up to Aug. 15, Snell’s first victory of 2017 and first win in close to a calendar year.
In 2018, Snell has made 18 starts, striking out 123 hitters. His earned run average sits among the elite, 2.24.
But true to Snell’s quiet, focused nature, it was a walk to the Astros Alex Bregman that caused him to describe his Sunday outing as “frustrating.” Not enough to ruin the day, just less than the perfection he seeks.
But Rays manager Kevin Cash knows what he has right now. It was not easy signing off on Snell’s Durham exile, just more than a year ago. Snell is playing the role of ace on a Rays pitching staff literally piecing itself together day by day. Snell took the ball and helped his club climb back over the .500 mark for the third time this season.
“What Blake Snell has done. He’s pitched like an all-star in the first half,” Cash said. “This was a big game. I think we knew had a chance to have a special series and he really capped it off.”