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Snell untouchable in fourth Durham start

No. 2 Rays prospect twirls five hitless innings, lowers IL ERA to 1.42
August 9, 2015

It's been all Blake Snell in 2015. He's dominated at Class A Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. He didn't give up a run of any kind in the first 49 innings of his season. His strikeouts are up. His walks are down. To hit .200 against him is to succeed against him. 

And so four starts into his Triple-A Durham career, the left-hander is just starting to find ... his confidence?

"It's going good," Snell said of his move to the International League. "I'm getting my confidence to the point where I feel like I can perform at any level. I'm starting to believe no one can hurt me if I pitch like I should, and that's been a big help."

The Louisville Bats couldn't hurt Snell on Sunday. They could barely even touch him.

The Rays' No. 2 prospect didn't allow a hit, struck out nine and served up two walks over five innings to lead the Bulls to a 9-0 win over the Louisville Bats at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The only trouble Snell faced came in his first inning after he walked Kristopher Negron and allowed the Bats leadoff hitter to reach scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Irving Falu. The Bulls starter responded by striking out Adam Duvall and Brennan Boesch to cancel out the threat. He retired 12 of the next 13 Louisville hitters he faced -- the only blemish being a walk to Chris Dominguez in the second.

The nine strikeouts marked Snell's highest total since making the jump to Triple-A and his highest at any level since he fanned 12 for Montgomery on May 23.'s No. 49 overall prospect earns the highest praise for his fastball, but said it was his other offerings that led to Sunday's success.

"Truthfully, it was more my offspeed stuff today -- more my changeup and slider," Snell said. "My fastball was kinda wild, but the offspeed was really good. I had good feel for both of them, and they had really good bite but stayed on the plate at the same time. That was encouraging."

With all that was going Snell's way -- most notably the zero in the hits column -- the Bulls still cut him short after five innings and 62 pitches (39 for strikes) because of the Rays' plan for their prized southpaw. Upon his promotion to the IL, Tampa Bay told Snell he would be limited to only five innings per start for the remainder of the 2015 season. Indeed, he's gone the full five in his last three Durham starts and completed four frames in his debut. 

Although the organization didn't give him an exact reason for the cap, it's a good way to keep the 22-year-old from overwork. After Sunday's gem, he has tossed 108 2/3 innings, seven below his 2014 total with just about a month still left to go in the Minor League season. So even when he's got a no-hit bid, he's not going to fight to personally maintain it.

"Nah, I'm gonna stick with their plan and what they're doing for me," Snell said. "The Rays really know what they're doing, and I'm not going to be one to question it or anything like that."

Even in a small Triple-A sample, Snell's sustained dominance across three different levels has been one of the biggest stories of the 2015 Minor League season. After posting a 1.20 ERA with 106 strikeouts and 40 walks in 89 2/3 innings between the Florida State and Southern Leagues, the Rays left-hander has a 1.42 ERA with 29 strikeouts and five free passes in 19 frames in the IL. His collective 1.24 ERA over all three is the lowest in the Minors, while he also ranks among the MiLB leaders in strikeouts (135, tied for second), WHIP (1.01, 13th) and average-against (.174, second).

Now one step away from the Majors, Snell believes there are still things he can take away from the highest level of his career. 

"Watching these guys, the biggest thing I've taken away is I need to do a better job of not showing my emotions," he said. "I'm trying to do a better job of staying composed out there and not letting the other team see my emotions. Whatever happens, happens. I just need to stay composed. I still think I have a lot to learn."

It didn't take Louisville long after Snell's exit to end Durham's no-hitter. Negron singled off left-handed reliever Everett Teaford with one out in the sixth. Teaford combined with C.J. Riefenhauser and Jim Miller to seal the one-hitter.

No. 15 Rays prospect Mikie Mahtook homered and drove in five to power the Durham offense. 

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.