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Slight changes pay off big for Snell

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By John Grupp
Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

ST. LOUIS - Ian Snell is surging.

The maligned Pirates right-hander is salvaging what looked to be a lost 2008 season with an August victory drive.

Snell, coming off a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday, has more wins in the past five starts (two) than he had between mid-April and late July.

"I felt that's where I should be," he said. "Now, I'm looking forward to my next start."

Lately, Snell hardly looks like the same pitcher who failed to survive the sixth inning in 12 consecutive starts this year.

He looks like the one who finished in the top-10 in the NL last year in strikeouts and innings pitched, earned a three-year, $8.6 million extension and was the Opening Day starter.

"Some people," he said, "were probably thinking I was a fluke."

Snell is 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA in his past five starts. In the 17 starts prior to that, he was 1-8 with a 6.56 ERA.

Coming around
Ian Snell has strung together three quality starts in a row after a woeful first half of the season.
Starts Record ERA
April 18-July 23 17 1-8 6.56
July 28-Aug. 19 5 2-2 3.77

Snell was back to his normal self the day after striking out eight and walking one in a gem against the Cardinals. He said a number of factors - everything from possibly tipping his pitches to a back injury - led to his disastrous opening three months.

During that stretch, nearly everyone, from the Reds to the White Sox to the Cardinals, took batting practice against Snell.

"It happens," Snell said. "There's nothing you can explain other than go out and give it all you got. I do that every time, and I didn't have any luck."

Now, with about six starts left this season, Snell is 5-10 with a 5.60 ERA, down from a season-high of 6.14 less than three weeks ago.

"It's a big step," manager John Russell said. "He's been working hard for it. I think it really started to work for him (Tuesday) night."

The biggest change is Snell's delivery, in which his hands are going more above his head in his wind-up. It has made all the difference.

"He and (pitching coach Jeff Andrews) tinkered with it a little bit," Russell said. "We're seeing some results from it."

And batters are seeing less. Before changing his mechanics, Snell said he was tipping his pitches.

"A couple guys from other teams told me that," he said. "They wouldn't tell me exactly how. But I get DVDs made and I watch my film from last year to this year. I can see where they were finding it. The elbow was out for breaking balls. The glove was squeezed for certain pitches. There are no tells now. I'm very happy. I'm still young and I still can learn, and this year has been a learning experience."

Russell is skeptical about tipped pitches from Snell.

"I didn't see that," he said.

For sure, Snell is focused on closing out the 2008 season strong. His fastball reached 96 mph in the sixth inning and he even attacked inside a couple of times - a season-long gripe from Snell's critics.

"I don't care what other people think," Snell said. "I'm here to do this for myself and for my team. It gets tiring when people say, "Why aren't you doing this or doing that?' It's not as easy as everyone thinks."

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