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Move over Archer, Rays have a new ace of the staff

Photo by Wayne Masut

The climate in the Tampa Bay Rays dugout has changed over the last month — due in large part to the club’s new No. 1 pitcher.

Every team has to label somebody as their No. 1 starter. However, there aren’t really 30 aces in Major League Baseball. And in all fairness, some teams have a No. 2 starter that could make a case for elite status. Just take a look at the Houston Astros, Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox. You could argue that their No. 2 starters, Dallas Keuchel, Stephen Strasburg and David Price, respectively, are better than the No. 1 pitchers on many big-league clubs.

For the Tampa Bay Rays, Blake Snell is listed as the second-in-command, however his performance on the field is vaulting him into No. 1 status. Having thrown 6.1 innings of four-hit ball in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves, the 25-year-old has surpassed Chris Archer as the teams best pitcher.

Finding ways to win ball games, or at least keep your team in it, is a huge element of being a front-line starter in this league.

“That’s a sign of a pitcher that’s starting to come into his own a little bit,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He fell behind a lot of hitters, definitely wasn’t as sharp but give him a lot of credit for keeping it 1-0.”

Perhaps now, despite the fact that Archer is under team-control through the 2021 season, the time has come for the team to embrace a new rotation leader. But has the market dimmed on Archer?

Having been drafted with the 52nd overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft, Snell was tagged with high expectations. The type of expectations that many first-round draft picks never live up to. Snell, on the other hand, attempted to live up to them early on while in the minor leagues.

You may recall the scoreless-innings streak that reached 49.2 frames through two levels of minor-league ball, in 2015. Despite the lofty expectations, Snell, who started that season as the team’s No. 12 rated prospect, vaulted himself up to No. 2 by season’s end.

Here’s to a new season

The truth is, Snell has turned into the best pitcher on a young Rays team — and it’s not really close. He’s allowed five-or-fewer hits in 12 consecutive starts, he holds a 1.42 ERA at home this season, and he’s gone at least six innings in six straight starts. Perhaps most impressive, he’s walked only four batters in his last 33.1 innings pitched.

Blake Snell covers first base on a Jason Kipnis ground ball.

Already posting a 1.1 WAR on the season, Snell ranks 15th among qualified starters. Names like Strasburg, Corey Kluber, and Masahiro Tanaka are behind him.

Perhaps K/9 is your barometer of choice. Entering Tuesday, he was 30th in MLB with a 9.57 rate –tops on the Rays. His four wins lead the team and his 2.55 BB/9 rate is a vast improvement from 2017 when he posted a 4.11 ratio over 129.1 IP — that was the 10th worst mark among pitchers with over 100 innings pitched.

Credit to the pitching coach

Both Snell and Cash have credited pitching coach Kyle Snyder with helping to improve Snell’s mechanics this year.

“His alignment is much more consistent than it was last year,” the skipper said. “I hear Kyle talk about his stride length, his release-point all being in connection and i think he’s able to repeat that a lot more consistently than what he maybe did last year…the fastball has stayed consistently up there. It seems like every time I see it it’s 95, 96, 97.”

In fact, Snell’s average fastball velocity is 95.1, second highest among AL lefties. He doesn’t deny that Snyder has been a big help.

“Yeah, working with Kyle,” he said after the game. “Just staying consistent allows the velo to stay there. I just gotta continue to keep doing what I’m doing off the field to keep that going I guess.”

Diamond Notes

Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria exited the game in the eighth inning after taking a ball of the face — a ball that bounced off of the Tropicana Field roof. Brad Miller replaced him in the lineup.

“The ball hit off the speaker, ricocheted, hit off the ground, and I think it popped him above the eye.” Cash said of the injury.

He didn’t rule-out the possibility of having him playing on Wednesday, but the eye was noticeably red and swollen after the game.

With Jesus Sucre getting the start behind the plate, Wilson Ramos started as the DH. Hitless entering his final at-bat, he extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a ninth-inning broken-bat single off of Braves reliever Arodys Vizcaino.

Injured right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is scheduled to pitch two innings, or approximately 35 pitches, Wednesday night for High-A Charlotte. He has not appeared in a game for Tampa Bay this season.


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