Blake Snell

Breaking down the good and bad from Snell's return to Giants' rotation

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What deserves the most recognition after the Giants’ 9-5 win in 10 innings over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at PNC Park is San Francisco’s resiliency. 

The Giants saw a four-run lead slip out of their fingertips Tuesday night in a 7-6 10-inning loss, and in 24 hours' time flipped the script on the Pirates. They once trailed 5-0 after a disastrous five-run fourth inning from Pittsburgh, but chipped away and never gave in. The Giants scored one run in the fifth, two in the sixth, one in the eighth, one in the ninth and four in the 10th. 

How can we not talk about LaMonte Wade Jr. reaching base in all six of his plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with three walks? What about Matt Chapman homering for the second straight game to continue his hot streak? There’s also Patrick Bailey’s clutch three-hit night, Jorge Soler knocking in a season-high three runs while going 2-for-4, Randy Rodriguez striking out four in two innings out of the bullpen and more.

But the story even after the Giants’ comeback win was the return of starting pitcher Blake Snell. Last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner was back in the big leagues for the first time in over a month, April 19, and the results weren’t too pretty. Snell’s final line was four earned runs on four hits in 3 1/3 innings. 

Both Snell and manager Bob Melvin were much happier with the pitcher's process compared to the box score. There was good and there was bad in Snell’s return, so let’s look at both to make a final assessment of Snell’s first start in nearly five weeks. 

The Good

Snell expected to throw around 75 pitches and instead threw a season-high 87. His velocity was right in line with what it has been all season, averaging 95.3 mph on his four-seam fastball and topping out at 96.9 mph. Though Snell’s day ended quicker than he had hoped, he was down-right nasty at times. 

“His stuff was a lot better today,” Melvin said to reporters. 

To start off the night, Snell struck out Andrew McCutchen with a 95-mph fastball up and out of the strike zone. Three of the first six batters he faced resulted in strikeouts, and all three of his outs in the second inning were by strikeouts. Snell recorded two strikeouts on his curveball, two from his fastball and one off a wicked slider.

The Pirates swung and missed 15 times in Snell’s short outing. Here’s one example of his nastiness as previously mentioned. 

"Velo was a little bit higher, breaking balls were sharper,” Melvin said. “He was throwing strikes with them, just got a little bit tired and they made him throw some pitches. But it looked different to me, as far as the quality of the stuff."

The Bad

Though Snell was able to stretch himself to 87 pitches, he recorded only 10 outs. McCutchen was the last batter of the night he faced. A seven-pitch at-bat ended as Snell hit McCutchen in the foot with the bases loaded to bring in the first run of the night. In came Sean Hjelle, who gave up a grand slam to the first batter he faced. 

Snell already had walked two and hit another in that ugly fourth inning. His first two pitches of the night were balls, and that set the tone for the rest of his start. Snell constantly put himself in bad situations. He faced a three-ball count eight times, and was in a 2-2 count when he plunked McCutchen.

In Snell’s two minor league rehab starts, he walked only one batter and hit another while recording 17 strikeouts. Then in his return to the big leagues, Snell walked a season-high four hitters, as well as the one hit by pitch, and threw one wild pitch. 

As he displayed at times throughout the night, Snell has some of the games’ most dominant stuff by any starter. His control issues overshadowed that talent in the Giants’ win.

“The results will come,” Snell said. 

The Performance 

Mentioning that he was “battling stuff,” Snell also revealed to reporters that he developed a blister on his foot beginning in the second inning. Snell needed only 16 pitches to get through the first inning, but then 24 in the second, 22 in the third and 24 in the fourth before exiting for good. 

Snell’s strikeout stuff had the same kind of sharpness that led to him winning his second Cy Young last season. Melvin, his manager in San Diego last year, saw that Wednesday. So did Snell himself. 

He said he “felt way better” than his previous three outings despite another game where the numbers didn’t look so good. Snell’s ERA fell from 11.57 to 11.40. He also now is walking a career-high 5.4 batters per nine innings and hasn’t pitched five innings yet. 

Snell in his four starts for the Giants has failed to even pitch four innings half the time.

There were moments that resembled an ace, one of the best arms in baseball. There were others where it felt like Snell, who didn’t sign with the Giants until nine days before Opening Day, still is dusting the dirt off his left shoulder. From the man himself, Snell’s inefficient performance was highlighted by positives that have him headed in the right direction. 

“I’m not worried,” Snell said. “I like where I’m at. I like the way the ball feels coming out of my hand. I like how I can locate. … I’m confident.”

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