Why Rays bosses still beam with pride as Blake Snell returns to Trop

ST. PETERSBURG — Kyle Snyder has been with Blake Snell throughout the checkpoints of his career.

• At the start as pitching coach for Snell’s first extended spring training in 2012 (the year after he was drafted) and his full-season minor-league team in at Class-A Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 2013, plus several other junctures along the way to the hard-throwing lefty’s 2016 major-league debut.

• At one of the lowest points, after Snell was sent back to Triple A in May 2017 and they sat in the Durham ballpark stands for nearly two hours talking about what was next.

• For the first best moment, invited to join Snell in New York after the 2018 season (his first as a big-league coach) for formal presentation of the first of the two Cy Young awards he’s won.

• As part of the most talked about, standing beside manager Kevin Cash when he decided to pull Snell from his dazzling and dominant outing in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series in the sixth inning.

• And as a witness to Round 1 of Snell’s payback for being traded to San Diego when last June he threw one of his best-ever games, and launched his run to the second Cy, against his former mates.

So as Snell, 31, returns this weekend to Tropicana Field for the first time since the post-2020 World Series trade and starts on Sunday for his new Giants team — in just his second game (having worked three innings Monday, following his March 19 signing) — Snyder fully knows what to expect.

“He’ll pitch good against us,” Snyder said. “He’s the type of guy emotionally, in a good way, that gets up for particular situations and games.”

Snell told San Francisco media earlier this week that the Trop trip won’t be a big deal. “I’ve already faced them,” he said. “It’s fun to go back, but I already had that moment.”

Snyder thinks back to the June 17 game at Petco Park. Snell flat out dealt, allowing only two hits (and three walks) over six shutout innings while striking out 12. Up to that start, he was 2-6, 3.78. From then on, 12-3, 1.37.

“I think he wanted to perform well in front of people that he had spent a lot of time around ...,” Snyder said. “And he gained a lot of momentum after that.”

Though Snell will be out there trying to beat the Rays on Sunday, Snyder still will be beaming.

“It’s hard to remove the emotions that are built over time,” he said. “Relationships are really important to me; I don’t think that’s any secret to anybody.

“And to see kind of how his career has unfolded certainly makes me very proud.”

Of the hundreds of conversations that they’ve have had, including this spring as Snell was waiting out a surprisingly quiet free-agent market, one that stands out to Snyder was following the mid-May demotion in what was supposed to be Snell’s first full big-league season in 2017.

Snell got word after a day game in Boston, and summoned a buddy who was visiting to drive him through the night to Durham so he could immediately begin working on getting back.

“He was upset,” Snyder said. “Not because he didn’t think it was the right call. He was just upset (at) the fact that he wasn’t performing.”

Rather than discuss delivery mechanics or pitch shape, Snyder, in his third and final year with the Bulls, saw a window to go bigger picture.

“I just talked about life, embracing who he is, being minor-league player of the year (in 2015), and you’ve got the world literally at your fingertips, and all you’re doing is pressing, and you’re not enjoying this,” Snyder said.

“You can combine knowing that you have five years to become as good as you can be, and still appreciate the process and the fact that you’re arguably as talented a left-handed starting pitcher in baseball that’s yet to really fully solidify themselves, but it’s right out in front of you. And I wanted him to have fun.’’

Given how Snell rejoined the Rays six weeks later and used a strong 2017 finish (4-1, 2.62) as a springboard to his 2018 success, Snyder said he’s most proud of how he helped Snell with “focus and maturation.”

Also, how he helped him understand what type of pitcher he is, that he “was never going to be a sharpshooter. That’s not his thing. It’s an ‘all power, no art’ thing.”

Manager Kevin Cash also had numerous conversations with Snell during his five seasons with Tampa Bay.

One that stuck came after Snell had been up and down without much success and had to learn to adjust.

“It just speaks to the type of person and pitcher that he was, and the motivation and drive,” Cash said. “I remember him basically saying, ‘I want to be one of the best left-handers in baseball, I want to win Cy Youngs.’ Everybody says that. I wanted to hit .400, too. ...

“(But) he’s gone out and backed it up with two Cy Youngs in two different leagues.”

The other came after their most famous talk, the one on the mound in Game 6 of the 2020 Series.

That was when Cash, with the Rays leading the Dodgers 1-0, pulled Snell after he gave up a one-out single to Austin Barnes, just the second hit he’d allowed, with zero walks and nine strikeouts. Basic lip-reading skills made it clear Snell was unhappy at the time.

What made it worse, of course, was that reliever Nick Anderson allowed a double, a run-scoring wild pitch and a fielder’s choice grounder that gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead, and three innings later, a championship.

Cash’s decision was one of the most dissected in recent Series history — he admits he still thinks about it at times — but he was impressed with Snell’s overall reaction.

“We talked about it the day after it happened,” Cash said. “I couldn’t appreciate more how he handled everything. I understand no pitcher wants to come out of the game, certainly a pitcher that was performing the way he did. He expressed he wanted to stay in, but I was just appreciative of how it all went down.”

As Snell is welcomed back to the Trop, there will be plenty more to talk about.

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