TORONTO — Blake Snell, statistically the best pitcher in baseball since late May, was far from his best Thursday at Rogers Centre. The Padres left-hander sprayed pitches around the edges of the strike zone yet benefited from good fortune. For the second time in his career, he issued seven walks while somehow surrendering only one run.
It was a five-inning, 106-pitch outing representative of much of Snell’s career: effectively wild, occasionally overpowering and inefficiently brief. Eleven days before the trade deadline, it also might have been a word of caution to teams in need of frontline pitching.
Still, if the Padres make Snell available, he likely would be the best starter on the market not named Shohei Ohtani. Whether the Padres will engage in serious trade discussions involving Snell remains to be seen. Even after Thursday’s 4-0 loss — a missed opportunity to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays and gain critical ground in pursuit of a theoretical wild-card spot — there was a sense from inside and outside the team that owner Peter Seidler and general manager A.J. Preller are still committed to trying to upgrade a 46-51 team with dubious playoff odds and the league’s third-highest payroll.
“I think we’re buying. That’s what I feel like,” Snell said. “I just feel like we gotta keep winning. This was a good series to win. I was really hoping to win today.”
Had Snell received any indication that the Padres intend to buy at the trade deadline, as some people around the team have in recent days?
“I mean, not from anyone, like, high up in the org,” Snell said. “My family, they all want us buying. I love it here, so I ain’t trying to go anywhere.
“I’d rather just stay here and see what happens,” the pending free agent added. “I’d rather finish this year here and see what happens.”
Blake Snell, who has been the best pitcher in baseball since late May, walked seven batters in five innings today and somehow still only allowed one run against the Blue Jays
He has a 0.71 ERA in his last 11 starts pic.twitter.com/b03EQEYHXQ
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) July 20, 2023
Snell, 30, has long been a creature of habit. The Tampa Bay Rays drafted him 52nd overall out of high school, nurtured his development as a top prospect and oversaw his rise to winning the 2018 American League Cy Young Award. When they traded him to San Diego after his famously curtailed outing in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, Snell at first struggled to transition from the only organization he had ever known.
More than two years later, Wednesday night brought a reminder of his tendency to build strong attachments. Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, a former Rays teammate, texted Snell a video of a highlight catch Kiermaier had made against Toronto, in a game Snell started. “Don’t forget,” Kiermaier wrote.
Snell had not.
“It’s weird,” he said. “I hate facing my old teammates. Like, hate it with a passion. You cheer for that guy for so long, and then you gotta face them and get them out.”
Thursday, Snell did just that. Kiermaier lined out on a well-struck ball in the bottom of the second, prompting smiles from both players. Snell struck out Kiermaier in the bottom of the fourth on four pitches, none of them inside the zone.
It was a theme. Snell threw just 55 strikes among his 106 pitches. He did not get to face Kiermaier a third time. He somehow managed to allow near-minimal damage.
“He was Houdini,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “Just maybe a little off, obviously, with his command a little bit, which we haven’t seen here in quite a while. But to be able to get through with one run was pretty miraculous.”
Snell attributed his wildness more to overeagerness than a lack of control.
“I was just trying to be too fine,” Snell said. “That’s honestly what hurt me most.
“I just think I gave that lineup a lot of credit. A lot of familiar faces (from the American League East), but haven’t seen them in a long time, so I was really excited. … I was still trying to be more cautious than I’ve been with any team. So, both sides, but I’ll learn from it, get better. Looking forward to my next start versus Pittsburgh.”
That outing is expected to come Tuesday. It could end up being Snell’s last at Petco Park as a Padre; his subsequent start would fall on July 31 at Coors Field. The trade deadline would arrive hours later.
His focus, Snell said, is on the immediate future. The trade speculation surrounding him has yet to fully register.
“Personally, I don’t think about it until probably, like, the last two days (before the deadline),” Snell said. “Like, it’ll depend on if we’ve been winning or we’ve been losing. That would be a possibility. … I’m hoping we just win and go get some guys and make a run.”
So, the next three series — at Detroit, at home against Pittsburgh, at home against Texas — could determine his fate for the rest of this season. And in a few months, Snell will be eligible for free agency for the first time. Who knows what will happen?
“I would love to stay here,” Snell said, meaning San Diego. “I love it here. We’ll see. That part’s out of my control.”
(Photo of Blake Snell: Mark Blinch / Getty Images)