Former Bulls pitcher Snell goes from snub to near starter

First-time All-Star soaking in the experience

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, who played for the Durham Bulls for parts of the 2016 and 2017 seasons, is 12-5 with a 2.27 ERA this season, earning him a trip to the MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. (Shawn Krest / North State Journal)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Blake Snell very nearly went from being the All-Star Game’s biggest snub to being its starting pitcher.

The former Durham Bull is one of the top pitchers in the American League this year, boasting a 12-5 record and 2.27 ERA. Last week when the All-Star teams were named, Snell was leading the American League in ERA — he’s since slipped into third — but, somehow, he was left off the initial roster.

Part of the problem was the team-selection process. Players and coaches vote for the pitchers — not fans — and they use paper ballots that they have to mail in, close to a month before the team is announced. That means the vote took place before Snell won four straight games, allowing just two runs in 28⅔ innings — a miniscule 0.63 ERA.

Snell’s teammates were quick to point out the injustice. Chris Archer — another former Durham Bull — tweeted Snell’s stats, then chided the players for not doing “due diligence” and filling out the ballots responsibly. Pitcher Matt Andriese, infielder Daniel Robertson and first baseman Jake Bauers, all former Bulls, also ripped the choice to leave Snell off, as did injured Bulls pitcher Brent Honeywell, who called it the “snub of the century.”

Each year, pitchers bow out of the game due to injury, or because they pitched the final game before the break, meaning they wouldn’t be available to pitch in the game. As the week went on, however, the American League pitching staff remained intact, and it was looking more and more like Snell would miss out on the All-Star Game.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell was a late addition to the American League All-Star Game roster. (Wendell Cruz / USA TODAY Sports)

“I didn’t think too much about it,” he said. “If it was gonna happen, it was gonna happen. If it wasn’t, it wasn’t. I just took it in stride. You can’t control it, so … whatever.”

He began making alternative plans for the four-day All-Star break.

“I was prepared, yeah,” he said. “I thought there was a chance I would be here. But if not, I was probably just gonna go back to Seattle, hang out with friends and family, have some barbecue and just enjoy myself.”

On Friday, the call finally came. Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber needed an injection in his knee and wouldn’t be able to pitch in the game. Snell was officially an All-Star. Better late than never.

Despite the fact he was a couple days away from a four-day Seattle vacation, Snell was suddenly in the mix to start Tuesday’s game. Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who is the skipper for the American League this year, said Snell was on his three-pitcher short list to start. Hinch instead went with Red Sox veteran ace Chris Sale, who started the game for the third straight year. Snell was the third pitcher to take the mound for the American League, allowing a third-inning home run to Wilson Contreras, striking out three and walking two in 1⅔ innings of work in the AL’s 8-6 extra-inning win.

“Blake Snell is not too far behind (Sale),” Hinch said.

He’s also working hard to make up the difference. Before leaving for Washington, Snell told the Tampa media he was looking forward to sitting down with Sale to get advice and tips on pitching.

“I saw him at breakfast this morning,” Sale said on Monday’s media day. “He said the same thing. I thought it was funny, because when you look at the year he’s having, I don’t think he needs to talk to anybody or ask anybody questions.”

“That’s what he told me,” Snell agreed. “But that was just breaking the ice. We’ve got a lot more (talking) to go.”

Sale isn’t sure about the sit-down, however.

“You know, I don’t want to give away too many secrets,” he joked. “He’s in the division, you know. So keep it cool.”

Aside from stalking Sale, Snell is just taking everything in and enjoying the chance to be an All-Star.

“He’s like I was my first All-Star Game,” said Rays catcher Wilson Ramos, who is playing in his second. “He came in a little bit surprised, but at the same time, really happy. He’s next to my locker (in the American League clubhouse) and you see him looking at all his clothes, and everything says All-Star.”

Snell doesn’t deny being a bit of a gawker at his first All-Star Game. He proudly pointed out the patch on one shoulder of his jersey — a star with a number one on it.

“The star has the number of times you’ve been an All-Star,” Snell pointed out. “That’s kind of cool. You can see how many times everyone has been here.

“The coolest thing is just seeing all the guys here, riding the bus with them, sitting with them at breakfast,” he continued. “It was kind of cool. Wow. That’s really what it is. Wow. I mean, you see all these guys that you’ve watched for a while — not just when you’ve been playing, but you watched them when you were growing up. Now you’re one of them. They’re doing the same things as you. Some of the guys have just done it longer. Last night, I saw some of the guys. I was like, ‘That’s Chris Sale! That’s Aaron Judge!’”

Someone pointed out to him that some people might have been saying, “That’s Blake Snell!”

Snell paused for a moment to consider the possibility. Then he said, “That’s weird.”