Aug 2, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Drew Smyly (33) talks with media before the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Smyly: New Rays Pitcher, Familiar Number

All eyes–at least all the awake ones–will be on Drew Smyly as he makes his Tampa Bay Rays debut at 10:05 PM tonight. When he does, though, there will be something off, something that makes fans jump a little bit when they first see it: his uniform number. Smyly will wear number 33, the same number with the Rays that he did with the Detroit Tigers. With Rays fans not needing another reason to dislike him after he was a key part of the David Price trade, the fact that he is taking James Shields‘ old number will only amplify the outcry if he does do well.

Who is Drew Smyly supposed to be when he joins the Rays? Joe Maddon and Smyly both gave the simple, cliche answer: Smyly’s own self.

“We want him to be himself,” Maddon said. “He’s been pitching well. We don’t want to get in his way right now.”

“You’re not going to replace David Price,” said Smyly. “The Rays made the trade, they wanted me, so I’m going to do the best I can and try to learn from them and get better every game. I’m just doing me.”

At the end of the day, however, who Smyly turns into will mean everything. Will he be the pitcher who had an even 4.00 ERA in 36 starts for the Detroit Tigers the last three years, a decent pitcher but one that makes you cringe at that thought that the Rays traded Price for him? Or does Smyly have something more in tank? It’s ironic that Smyly got Shields’ number because it states a point that many Rays fans would deem mostly accurate: Drew Smyly does not need to be David Price, but he better turn into a very good pitcher–like a Shields–for this trade to look good in the end. Is Smyly capable of doing that?

Drew Smyly joins the Rays as the type of player that they have so rarely seen among their ranks: a good, but not great left-hander starter. Before Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos this season, the only lefty starting pitchers to start more than one game for the Rays in any year since 2008 were Scott Kazmir, David Price, and Matt Moore. For Smyly, he lacks the stuff of that trio, but the expectations will be just as high. It will be up to Jim Hickey and the Rays coaching staff to help Drew Smyly take the next step as a pitcher and make meeting the lofty hopes everyone has for him within the realm of possibility.

Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays saw talent in Drew Smyly. They saw a pitcher with a fastball that he has commanded better each of the last three years, going from a 0.66-to-1 groundball to flyball ratio in 2012 according to Brooks Baseball to a 1.20-to-1 ratio this season. They saw a pitcher with an excellent curveball with sharp downward break, quite possibly the best on the staff the moment he joined the rotation. Only Chris Archer boasts a better breaking ball–his slider–among the Rays’ current starters. Then he has his cutter, a pitch that the Rays have not explored much except with the pitcher with whom Smyly will be linked forever: Price. Smyly uses the pitch quite effectively, and, in sharp contrast to Price, he uses the pitch more to lefty batters than to righties. Finally, there is the offering that Smyly is lacking: an effective changeup. Could the Rays teach him one and change his fate as a pitcher in the process? There is reason for optimism regarding Drew Smyly’s arsenal and the Rays believe that they are getting a very good pitcher. It will be a challenge, however, for Smyly to live up to the billing of a key piece from the David Price trade and the wearer of James Shields’ number 33, and we will have to see how close he can come.

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