Snell of success
Maturing righty a bright spot for struggling Pirates
Posted: Thursday May 10, 2007 1:18PM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 1:18PM
It's the bottom of the seventh inning, the bases are jammed with Cardinals and Ian Snell, a 5-foot-10ish, 170-pound (and that's probably pushing it) right-hander from the great state of Delaware is scrambling for his life. Or scrambling, at the very least, to keep his Pirates in this game.
Now if this situation happened to be in April or May of last year, Snell would have tried to blow a fastball past David Eckstein, the St. Louis shortstop, and given up a hard single to right. Maybe worse. But this is not last year. Snell, who has become the most dependable starter for a team in dire need of dependability, has learned. He now knows that, even as good as his fastball can be -- and, at times, we're talking a live mid-90s and up, impressive for a guy Snell's size -- if that's all you have to offer, major-league hitters will feast on you.
Instead of the heater, Snell opens the confrontation with a changeup, which Eckstein swings right through for strike one. Eckstein fouled back the next pitch, a fastball up and in, and then grounded out on a down-and-in fastball to end the inning.
The Pirates won that game on April 16, with Snell picking up his first victory of the year.
"I've learned not to throw a lot of fastballs, that's for sure," says Snell, who gave up 29 homers last season, tied for the fifth-highest total in the National League. "A lot of those fastballs ended up out of the ballpark.
"Now I have another weapon to use -- my changeup."
That's where the 25-year-old Snell is today. Smarter, certainly, than he was this time last year. A bit more under control. And, as it often works out, on his way to being a much more successful pitcher despite playing for the seemingly always struggling Pirates.
"I think we'll be all right," Snell says from Chicago, where the Pirates are playing the Cubs. "The mood is good here. We know it's still early. We know we're a lot better than last year, especially from the pitching standpoint.
"It's going to come," Snell insists. "We don't know when, but it's going to come."
It's amazing what a year's worth of starts can do for a young pitcher. At this time last year, the Pirates had some grave concerns about Snell, a 26th-round draft pick in 2000. He had failed to impress manager Jim Tracy and pitching coach Jim Colborn in winter workouts, yet at season's start, the Pirates needed another arm, and Snell was young and cheap and he threw hard.
His April numbers from last season gave them no reason to jump up and down, either. Snell lasted only five innings in his first three starts and went 0-2 in his first four. If there was one positive for Snell back then, you could see that he was battling. He left all four of those games with the score tied. The Pirates ended up winning one of them. Even then, he was starting to learn.
"The main thing I'm worried about is keeping my team in the game, with a chance to win the game," Snell says now. "If I can do that, then I'm all right."
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