Rest Does Smyly Good
Earlier this month, we took a look at what was ailing Drew Smyly. The start after that article went live was not much better as he put 10 men on base and allowed 4 runs over 5 innings of work. The team decided to allow him to skip a start and get 10 full days of rest before the outing last night against the Mariners. The rest seemed to suit him well.
Smyly’s effort against Seattle looked a lot like the back-to-back outings in April when he shut down Cleveland and shut out Boston over eight innings. In each of those outings, like last night, Smyly struck out at least 11 batters and allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. The difference, statistically, in this most recent outings is he did not walk anyone and gave up a home run. The 12 K/0 BB effort was just the fifth time in franchise history a pitcher had done so joining the ranks of James Shields, Chris Archer, David Price, and Scott Kazmir.
The other similarity of last night’s outing to those two dominating outings in April was Smyly’s ability to get batters to chase out of the zone. Smyly is at his best when he can work the fastball to the sides and up and then get batters to swing over his secondary stuff as it dives out of the zone. Over his previous three outings, that recipe was rarely present and Smyly induced just six swings and misses on secondary pitches out of the zone. Last night, he induced seven on curveballs.
He victimized Ketel Marte three times with that pitch last night on pitches that dove down out of the zone. He did the same to Nelson Cruz and got Kyle Seager chasing one sweeping out of the zone. The most intriguing curve chased on the night is that dot to the far left as it was one that Franklin Gutierrez could not reach. It wasn’t an attempt at a backdoor curveball as much as it was a very tight 12-6 curve that Gutierrez expected to sweep over the plate but the pitch never came in the zone (see 10th strikeout in this video)
Another aspect of his approach last night that stood out was his willingness to get early strikes with his secondary pitches. Smyly got first pitch strikes with his secondary pitches six times last night, something he had done just four times in his past two outings. He had first pitch strikes to 15 of the 24 batters he faced last night and getting those early strikes kept him out of hitter counts for most of the evening as he threw just 18 of his 101 pitches when he was down in the count. Unfortunately, the one pitch that was put in play when he was behind in the count was the hanging curveball to Nelson Cruz that ended up in the left field seats.
Ultimately, Smyly is at his best when he doesn’t have to fill the zone with strikes. If we look at his InZone%, his best games come when he gets ahead early and gets batters to expand later in the count. Last night, he threw 44% of his pitches in the zone whereas he had averaged in the 50’s in recent weeks and generated the highest percentage of pitches chased out of the zone on the season.
The Rays can’t continue to keep giving him extra rest in between starts, but perhaps this 10 day break was the reboot that Smyly needed to get back on the right track.