Going to a new team is kind of like going on a first date with a girl. The monkey wrench baseball throws in, though, is that if you fail, you can’t exactly say, “Oh, I’ll just never see her again.” The girl lives right across the hall. If you tank, every time you go out your front door, she will be there, her friends will be there, maybe even her mom will be there to remind you that you didn’t do so well. Of course, if you’re Tampa Bay Rays starter Drew Smyly, her last boyfriend had the looks of George Clooney and died saving kittens from a burning building–that last boyfriend being, of course, David Price.
Drew Smyly couldn’t technically fail as far as the Rays were concerned. After being eased into the Detroit starting rotation his rookie season in 2012, he found a great deal of success pitching out of the bullpen in 2013 for the Tigers, to the tune of 81 strikeouts in 76 and a 2.37 ERA. In 2014, he went back into the rotation for the Tigers and except for two bad games, one against Oakland and another against the Rays, pitched relatively well. Smyly was unlikely to turn into a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he had been a successful number three or four starter type. Adding to the fun is that he was under control for three years beyond in 2014 and would be a successful lefty reliever even in the worst-case scenario. All those expectations have shifted, however, since the trade happened and Smyly took the mound.
Joe Maddon and company have to be more than pleased what they’ve seen out of Smyly since coming over. Smyly’s has not only staked a claim for serious consideration in next year’s starting staff, but also started convincing everyone that he could be better than we thought. In Smyly’s starts with the Rays, he is 3-1 and has given up just six runs in 36 innings for a shiny 1.50 ERA. In that time, he has only surrendered 18 hits, striking out 29 against just seven walks. Batters have had only six extra base hits in that time frame. Coming over, it was noted that Smyly was very receptive to adjustments. Whether or not these adjustments made Smyly better remains to be seen. Whatever the case, though, Smyly has elevated his game in his last five starts, punctuating the stretch with a two-hit shutout on August 22nd before following it up by allowing just two more hits in seven innings last Wednesday.
It is doubtful that Drew Smyly will continue the torrid pace he has been on the previous four games. He hasn’t suddenly added two or three miles per hour to his fastball or learned a devastating split-change from Alex Cobb. Baseball fans over the years have burned for too often by five excellent starts that gave way to inconsistency–expecting Smyly to continue pitching this well is a dangerous proposition. At the end of the day, though, the Rays don’t need Smyly to be David Price. They found themselves a promising pitcher in their return for their ace, and the last month has shown that he can be very good in his own right.