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SF Giants’ Snell ‘pretty damn good’ in final tuneup before ’24 debut

LOS ANGELES — Draped on the laundry cart in the middle of the Giants clubhouse Wednesday afternoon was a lone gray jersey, embroidered on the back with the number 7. The most important event at Dodger Stadium took place five hours before the first pitch, which meant Blake Snell could take a shower early.

In his final tune-up before making his club debut, Snell pitched five innings against Giants hitters off the mound inside Chavez Ravine. Now begins the countdown to the next time he dons the uniform and laces up the rubber, which will be Monday at Oracle Park against the Washington Nationals.

“When you start pitching in the big leagues, you just get the feeling that you start to lock in,” Snell said. “I felt it a little bit when I got here, I was just trying to prepare myself in case I threw. I can’t wait to see how the next few days go.

The Giants did their best to replicate the adrenaline that comes with a real major league outing, first hosting a nighttime start in Arizona against the team’s Double-A hitters and then hosting a game of big league against big league hitters. in full uniform.

But with a tarp partially covering the infield, a screen behind the pitcher’s mound and no fans in the stands or fielders behind him, Snell’s five simulated innings against Austin Slater, Mike Yastrzemski and Tyler Fitzgerald were more about fine-tuning his arsenal with adjustments. I couldn’t cope with the minor leagues.

“I didn’t get hit against Double-A guys. Today was more about making mistakes, seeing yourself get hit and learning from them,” Snell said. “The change and the curve are where they need to be. The fastball the last two innings was where it needed to be. Just a lot of life on these grounds.

Looking behind the plate, assistant pitching coach JP Martinez offered a three-word assessment: “Pretty good.” »

“We already know that the curve and the change are really good,” he said. “From what I’ve heard, the fastball is pretty fuzzy and the slider is pretty hard to grab. I think with a fastball or a slider, that’s a really good quality. Sometimes you can see some pretty pure spin on a four-seam or point on a slider. Either one is difficult to understand, causing the two terrains to get a bit mixed up.

Fitzgerald echoed that assessment, saying it was “just traditional Blake Snell.” When he puts the heater and the breaking ball together, it’s devastating.

Much has been made of Snell’s walk rate — the highest in the majors, even on the verge of winning his second Cy Young last season — but finding the strike zone wasn’t a problem Wednesday. Snell threw about 75 pitches and, according to Martinez, threw nearly 60 of them for strikes.

“There was a period where he threw 18 strikes in a row,” Martinez said. “You just see him in his comfort on the mound. That was the biggest thing for me, seeing how comfortable he looked during the windup and stretches. I just think he has a really good idea of ​​what parts of the zone he needs to get to, what types of terrain and how to get there.

Location is most important for Snell’s slider, which he says is the pitch that takes the longest to lock down. He left a few, which Fitzgerald and Slater punished. But by the time he finished, the pitch was dotting the bottom of the strike zone, saying, “I have a really good slider when it’s down there.” Alright. When it’s over, it cuts.

Snell’s fastball started at about 94 mph but got faster as the outing progressed, he said. That’s in contrast to his last appearance in Arizona, when he said he started to feel gassed during his fourth and final inning. Last year, his heater reached an average speed of 95.5 mph.

“Every stop, the fastball has been better,” Snell said. “It’s a completely different terrain than three weeks ago. I’m really excited about it.

Three weeks ago, the magnitude of Snell’s pitches were pitted against high school hitters, splitting his time between Shoreline Community College, north of Seattle, and his agency’s headquarters in Southern California. When his lengthy free agency finally ended, signing a two-year, $62 million contract with the Giants, “I got here and I was like, ‘I’m not where I thought I would be.’ »

One of Slater’s takeaways was: “It was cool to see him working on his stuff, trying to squeeze through six weeks of spring training in two weeks,” he said. “I found the adjustments he was able to make during the live performance to be really impressive. He looked really, really good at the end.

Snell could have made his first start here against the Giants’ arch-rival and one of the most intimidating lineups in baseball, but he said, “I love playing against the best teams.” I’m just not ready. During his first two simulated games against minor league competition, Snell told Melvin he wanted some extra tuning.

“You can’t lie to yourself. It really helped that I had known Bob for a while and that we trusted each other. That helped me a lot,” Snell said. “I was like, ‘Bob, I’m not getting better. I do what I have to do. I want to go against big league guys, make mistakes and see what happens.

The trust factor goes both ways, with the manager trusting his new starter to build on his terms despite occupying a valuable spot on the 26-man roster. Snell pitched for Melvin the past two seasons in San Diego, where pitching coach Bryan Price also served as an advisor.

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