So much of the Tampa Bay Rays’ success in recent seasons has been because of pitcher reclamation projects. Andrew Friedman and the Rays front office have done an excellent job pinpointing pitchers that Jim Hickey and their pitching coordinators have been able to fix, and the results of that have been incredible. Pitchers like Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth have been huge success stories, and the Rays have even been able to fix supposed lost cause Mike Montgomery up to the point where he is becoming a big league factor. Just as critical for the Rays, however, has been taking good pitchers and helping them take the next step.
A quick look at the Rays rotation reveals that three different pitchers–Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, and Chris Archer–have become better than we thought they would be after arriving in the major leagues. Cobb tightened up his curveball, Odorizzi added his dynamic split-change, and Chris Archer found a way to throw more strikes as all three suddenly have a chance to be frontline starting pitchers. Now the question will be whether the Rays can add a fourth name to that list: recent acquisition Drew Smyly. In an ironic twist, the career-shifting change may already be under way.
Less than a day before Smyly joined the Rays, Steve Kornacki of Fox Sports Detroit wrote a piece about the mechanical adjustment he made that helped spur him to success in recent outings. Detroit Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones got Smyly to lower his hands more as he sets to deliver pitches, and the result of that has been increased arm speed in his motion. Smyly and Jones talked about the effects of the change.
"“It’s both,” Smyly said. “Arm speed definitely helps with the sharpness of my off-speed pitches. But you still have to locate. You have both and you have the recipe for success.”Jones added, “Rhythm – that’s exactly what it is. He has a really good rhythm going.”"
Drew Smyly is already a good mid-rotation starter, and anything that could help him be more is only a positive development. The Rays will continue tinkering with Smyly–refining his changeup is certainly a possibility–but the fact that Smyly is joining the team with momentum heading in the right direction makes the possibilities even more exciting. The Rays are usually all alone as they help their young starters improve, but in this case they had some help, and they are happy to take it.