The Tampa Bay Rays entered the 2017 season envisioning Blake Snell entrenching himself within the five-man starting rotation.

That scenario didn’t play itself out, at least not yet.

Snell’s efficiency struggles began with walking five Toronto Blue Jays batters over 6 2/3 innings in his season debut April 6 and he never managed to work his way through the issue. Seven starts later, the Rays sent Snell down to Triple-A Durham. The 24-year-old developing left-hander compiled an 0-4 record and 4.71 earned run average over those eight starts, but he managed to complete six innings just once.

A lack of command played a large role in Snell’s troubles and inability to work deeper into games. He averaged 5.4 walks per nine innings and threw strikes on just 56.9 percent of his pitches (451 of 792).

Since the mid-May demotion to Durham, Snell has pitched fairly well but not nearly good enough to be called back up to the Rays. He’s 4-0 in six starts with a 2.84 ERA and is averaging 6 1/3 innings and 8.8 strikeouts per outing — nothing wrong with those numbers at all.

But while Snell has dropped his BB/9 average to 3.3 with the Bulls, a high pitch count continues to limit his ability to complete seven innings or more. He’s thrown 100 pitches or more in all six Triple-A starts, including two that ended after 5 1/3 and 5 2/3 innings but his strike rate is up to an encouraging 66 percent.

Snell does have swing-and-miss stuff and that has translated to 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings throughout his entire minor-league career and 9.1 over 27 major-league starts. Big-league hitters with better plate discipline than those taking cuts in MLB farm systems will continue to make Snell work harder for those Ks, and he cannot afford to mix in the high quantity of associated walks.

Eric Horchy is a staff writer with You can follow and interact with him on Twitter: @EricHorchy