05/15/10 2:34 PM ET
Friday's homer good sign for Snider
Eleven-pitch at-bat shows progress for Jays slugger
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
"It looks like, to me, that [Snider's] turned a corner," Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy said. "He's understanding what he needs to be successful. He's able to hit fastballs now. He's sitting on the pitches he wants to hit, and that's made it easier for him.
"It's just taken a while for him to understand it."
With the Blue Jays trailing, 9-4, Snider stepped up to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second to face Rangers right-hander Rich Harden. In his previous plate appearance in the first inning, Snider struck out with the bases loaded, caving to the temptation of high fastballs.
In his second meeting with Harden, the 22-year-old Snider settled into the batter's box ready for the high heat, but kept in mind that a changeup could be headed his way as well.
"I saw him start to mix in his changeup first-pitch against the lefties that came up before me," Snider explained. "I was really looking for something down in the zone, because he likes to challenge up with his fastball and was missing up a lot, but also keeping in mind that there's a good chance that you're going to see that first-pitch changeup.
"You're able to sit on that, with that in the back of your mind."
Snider took a first-pitch changeup for a ball.
"Now, I'm sitting dead red," said Snider, who continued to wait for a fastball down in the zone.
Snider received a 93-mph fastball, but it wasn't to his liking and he let it fly by for a second ball. Ahead in the count, 2-0, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston signaled for Snider to take the next pitch. Snider complied, watching a 92-mph fastball register for a strike.
"As wild as he was, you have to take some once in a while," Gaston said of Harden. "I don't usually give guys 2-0 takes, but he was still wild."
Harden switched things up with an 84-mph slider, but it went for a ball, giving Snider a hitter's count at 3-1. With first base occupied, Snider knew the Rangers starter would attack the strike zone, trying to avoid a walk.
"You're back into that mode where you know he doesn't have a base open," Snider explained. "He's got to challenge you. He's a challenge guy, anyway, and he's already thrown a couple offspeed pitches, so he's probably going to give you his best one and say, 'Here you go. Hit it.'"
Harden gave Snider a 91-mph fastball, but the young left-handed hitter swung through it.
"I overswung," Snider said. "He threw a fastball, and I came out of my shoes trying to hit it out of the stadium."
From there, the battle between Harden and Snider really began.
Harden fired three consecutive fastballs -- each clocked at 92-93 mph -- and Snider fouled off each one. At this point, Snider began wondering when the pitcher might alter his approach, returning to an offspeed offering to catch the hitter off-balance.
"That's where you really just have to trust your reactions," Snider said. "You have to be ready to hit the fastball. It's tough to sit on a slider in that position. If you get one, use your hands, foul it off, do whatever you can to try to see another pitch -- unless he hangs it."
Snider fouled off an 83-mph slider and then did the same with a 94-mph fastball. Five foul balls in a row with a full count in a critical situation. As Snider shifted back into his stance for an 11th pitch, he went over his game plan again.
"On the last one, it's 'Don't chase the slider down and lay off the fastball up,'" Snider explained. "That's hard to cover everything in between there, but it was one of those things as an athlete where it's hard to explain what happens. You just allow your natural instincts to take over."
Harden hung a slider, and Snider sent the pitch rocketing into the second deck down the right-field line for a three-run homer. The Blue Jays belted five long balls in the victory, but Gaston singled out Snider's shot off Harden as the most important of the lot.
"That was great, man," Gaston said. "[Harden] threw him everything."
Snider called it one of the most fulfilling at-bats of the season.
"Especially after my first at-bat, where I struck out with the bases loaded," Snider said. "He threw me three fastballs right down the middle of the plate, and I swung right through them. Having that second at-bat, and battling in that position, probably makes that one of the more important at-bats of the year for me."
Murphy said that one plate appearance was merely another stepping stone.
"To be honest with you, I've been impressed with him for probably the last week and a half," Murphy said. "Most of his at-bats have been better at-bats, and it's been a long process for him. I just look at it as more than that one at-bat."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.