CHICAGO (AP) — Blake Snell saved his best work for his biggest jam.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner dug in with two on in the sixth and struck out the next three batters. It was an emphatic way to end a threat, preserve a three-run lead and finish his afternoon. Snell struck out 11 over six innings in another strong outing, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Chicago White Sox 5-1 on Monday. The Rays improved to 8-3 and kept pace with their best start since 2010.
Snell (2-1) kept the White Sox off balance with a nasty breaking ball and a fastball consistently reaching the mid-90s in winning his second straight start. He gave up one run and six hits and did not walk a batter.
Snell struck out five of the first six hitters. But just as impressive was his late escape.
"That's a big moment early in the year to get through that," manager Kevin Cash said. "We really needed him to. He really kind of bowed up and made some big pitches right there at the end."
Leading 4-1 in the sixth, he gave up leadoff double to Leury Garcia. Tim Anderson followed with a single off the pitcher's glove, putting runners on first and third.
But Snell struck out José Abreu while Anderson stole second. He struck out Welington Castillo and got Yoán Moncada on three pitches each to end the threat.
"I felt really good today," Snell said. "In those situations, I felt very composed and in control the whole time. I knew what I had to do and I was able to do it today."
Since a season-opening loss to Houston, he has held Colorado and Chicago to one run and one walk while striking out 24 over 13 innings.
Avisail Garcia had two hits, including an RBI single in the second that made it 4-0. He also struck out three times against his former team.
Tommy Pham scored two runs and extended his club-record on-base streak to 43 games.
Willy Adames had three hits and two runs, and Guillermo Heredia and Austin Meadows drew bases-loaded walks. Hunter Wood, recalled from Triple-A Durham, threw three scoreless for his first big league save.
Chicago's Carlos Rodón (1-2) gave up four runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. The left-hander walked five and threw a wild pitch to go with nine strikeouts.
José Rondón homered against Snell in the fifth, stopping a 35-inning scoreless streak by Tampa Bay starters. Carson Fulmer worked three innings after being recalled from Triple-A Charlotte, then got optioned back to the minors after the White Sox fell to 3-6.
Manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper noticed a hitch in Rodon's delivery in the early going.
"He was talking to him throughout the ballgame," Renteria said of Cooper. "You literally could see the difference when he was doing a nice, clean, back-to-front motion that Coop always talks about."
Rodón threw 65 pitches in the first two innings and walked four as Tampa Bay grabbed a 4-0 lead.
Heredia drew a bases-loaded walk and Ji-Man Choi added a sacrifice fly in the first. Brandon Lowe ended that rally by striking out with the bases loaded when he tried to check his swing on a low 3-2 pitch that looked like ball four.
The Rays scored two more in the second on an RBI bunt single by Daniel Robertson and base hit to center by Avisail Garcia.
Rays: Tampa Bay optioned INF Christian Arroyo to Triple-A.
Rays: RHP José De León and RHP Brent Honeywell, both working their way back from Tommy John surgery, threw about 10 to 15 pitches in simulated games on Monday, manager Kevin Cash said. "Now, that will start them getting back to their rehab process," Cash said. "There's a two-month calendar on my desk right now that I haven't quite looked at their timeline."
Houston RHP Charlie Morton (1-0, 1.64 ERA) starts Tuesday. He tossed six scoreless innings against Colorado on Wednesday in a game Tampa Bay lost 1-0 in the 11th. Chicago has not announced a starter, though RHP Ervin Santana is just about ready to join the rotation. Signed to a minor league deal in February, the two-time All Star missed most of last season due to an injured right middle finger.