Snell continues to battle with free passes

Snell continues to battle with free passes

ST. PETERSBURG -- Blake Snell is a work in process.

On the one hand, the lefty has quality stuff. On the other hand, he walks too many, which has led to shorter starts than the Rays would like.

Snell made his 2017 debut in the Rays' 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday night, and while he issued five walks, he did last 6 2/3 innings.

Last season, Snell averaged fewer than five innings per start. In six of his 19 starts, he lasted fewer than four innings. That total tied him for second most in the Major Leagues behind Minnesota's Tyler Duffey (seven). Snell finished the season pitching five or fewer innings in six of his final nine starts.

So while Snell made it deep into Thursday's start, the damage was done early. He posted two scoreless innings before the Blue Jays loaded the bases in the third -- with a little bit of help. After Darwin Barney singled with one out, Snell struck out Steve Pearce before walking Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista to set up Kendrys Morales' game-changing grand slam.

Morales' monster grand slam

When asked what happened after he retired Pearce, Snell stated the obvious: "Walks. I feel like that's always been the thing that gets me."

"We're going to get that corrected here eventually," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Blake would probably be the first one to say that. That one inning when the Morales homer came, the one thing that looked a little different was maybe he was trying to be a little too fine with some really good hitters coming up. So you can't fault him too much with Donaldson and Bautista. The last thing you want to do is fall behind and then give in to them. So I understand the thought process."

In the seventh, Snell walked the leadoff batter, Russell Martin, who ended up coming around to score.

Cash allowed that Snell "definitely falls in that category" of being a young pitcher who has to trust his stuff "because his stuff is really good."

"Take away them being selective, there wasn't a ton of hard-hit balls on [the Blue Jays'] end," Cash said. "The walks ultimately got him in trouble in that inning and probably drove his pitch count up that last inning a little bit where it made it difficult to finish. Still, Blake's going to be just fine. We're very confident about that. I'm very confident about that."

While Snell clearly was upset about the walks, he said he felt good.

"Felt like I was competing," Snell said. "I'm happy about that."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.