PEORIA, Ariz. — Ian Snell hopes to duplicate his second-half success with the Seattle Mariners.
Snell went 5-2 with the Mariners after they got him from Pittsburgh in a seven-player trade late last July.
Seattle acquired Cliff Lee in the offseason and the former Cy Young winner will team with Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation. That drops Snell into the land of third, fourth and fifth starters despite his hefty $4.4 million salary.
“I’m not frustrated at all,” Snell said Sunday. “I like flying under the radar. I think I do better. I don’t quite understand how to handle the pressures of being a No. 1 yet and I’m taking my time. Still fairly young in the game and I just want to go out and have fun.”
The 28-year-old righty spent four seasons in Pittsburgh, where he ascended to the No. 2 spot in the Pirates’ rotation and posted a 14-win season in 2006 and a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts in 2007. But a 10-game winless streak and a 2-8 mark in 2009 got him a demotion to Triple-A Indianapolis in late June and about a month later, he was shipped to the Mariners.
“They just threw me in there, and to tell you the truth I didn’t know how to handle it,” Snell said of his rapid rise with the Pirates. “I didn’t quite have the mind frame of a No. 1 and I didn’t quite understand how to be a leader over there. I kind of swayed off a little bit and lost control of myself. A large part of that is my fault but it takes two halves to mess things up. I’m not blaming anybody.”
The change of scenery helped. Snell did well in his 12 starts with the Mariners, even though he walked more batters (39) than he struck out (37). He allowed two earned runs or less in seven starts and had a 3.00 ERA from Aug. 15 until season’s end.
Over the winter, Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair kept in frequent contact with Snell.
“Last year coming over, totally different organization in the middle of the battle, he was feeling everybody out,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “I see a comfort level. I see a guy that’s worked his tail off, gotten bigger and stronger. I like where he’s at. He seems happy and raring to go.”
Still, Snell can’t quite feel like he’s found a permanent home with the Mariners.
“This is my last year unless they pick up my options, but I hope they do,” Snell said. “But it feels good just to come in and see the guys again and know that the expectations are to win and everybody here wants to win.”
Snell is encouraged by the Mariners corps of starting pitchers. After Hernandez and Lee, the club has plenty of options to round out the rotation, including left-handers Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jason Vargas and Luke French and righty Doug Fister.
“I’m quite sure everybody’s going to depend on us more at the bottom to help those guys out,” Snell said of Hernandez and Lee.