Blake Snell couldn’t keep his eyes off the Red Sox
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Blake Snell leaned over the railing in front of the home dugout for much of Saturday night’s game against the Red Sox, seemingly trying to get as close to the game as he could.
Even in uniform, Snell resembled more of an attentive student than a baseball player. The lefthander, who will face the Sox on Sunday afternoon, was looking for scraps of information.
“I know J.D. [Martinez] is doing his homework on me and I’m doing mine on him. I like being able to see his last few at-bats,” Snell said before the game. “When I saw I was going last in this series, I was excited. That meant I could watch them twice.”
That lefthander Ryan Yarbrough started on Saturday for the Rays and allowed one run over five innings made it a little easier for Snell. How the Sox reacted to Yarbrough’s pitches helped his preparation.
“It’s a chess match,” Snell said. “I never really thought much about the mental game until Carlos Beltran set me up. He was waiting all game for a changeup and he got me [for a home run]. Then I realized how much it mattered.”
The 25-year-old Snell is 15-5 with a 2.07 earned run average and is a legitimate candidate for the American League Cy Young Award. He has faced the Red Sox three times this season and allowed two runs on 11 hits over 19 innings with five walks and 19 strikeouts.
Martinez is the hitter he respects the most.
“I do more work on him than anybody else. I love that challenge,” Snell said. “I know he’s doing his work, too. I love that he’s trying to figure out what I will do. Maybe I will surprise him with something.”
Martinez just grinned when he heard that.
A supplemental first-round pick in 2011, Snell was 11-15 with a 3.83 ERA in his first two seasons in the majors and hit hard by the Sox, giving up 13 earned runs over 19⅔ innings.
That flipped this season. Now Snell gets one more chance against the Sox.
“I’m looking forward to it, I really am,” Snell said. “I love playing them. They’re the best team in the league — I can’t wait for this one.”
Asked why he’s had so much success against the Sox, Snell offered a breakdown.
“I feel comfortable against them because I know what I’ll get out of them,” he said. “There won’t be many surprises. J.D. is a good hitter and you know why he is. Mookie [Betts] is a good hitter.
“[Eduardo] Nunez is going to chase and you know why he will. I’ve always felt comfortable against Jackie [Bradley Jr.] and the same with [Andrew] Benintendi because they’re lefties.
“They’re tough but I’ve just had success this year. But it only gets harder the more you face them. They have very good timing. Once one guy gets a hit, it feels like they catch fire. You have to eliminate that.”
Sox manager Alex Cora said Snell has easily been the toughest pitcher his team has faced this season. He combines a 96-m.p.h fastball with a hard changeup and a tight curveball that breaks down in the strike zone.
“He’s been great against us. But he’s been great against everybody,” Cora said. “When I saw him the first time [at the beginning of the season] compared to last year, I was like, ‘Whoa.’ This is one of the best lefties in the big leagues.”
When Snell was not initially selected to the All-Star Game, Cora made several public comments that indicated how ridiculous he thought that was.
“He’s a talented kid with great stuff,” Cora said. “It seems he’s under control against us. We try to run; he doesn’t panic. He’s one of the best pitchers in the big leagues.”
That Snell will be facing Nathan Eovaldi makes the game even better.
Eovaldi played for the Rays before being traded for the Sox and was one of Snell’s mentors. The two have been trading text messages the last few days.
“It’ll be fun,” Snell said. “Nathan led by example. He really helped me with my work ethic and we formed a very good relationship, something that we’ll probably keep for the rest of our lives. Great teammate and a great person, he’s what you look for in a human being.”