First, the raw numbers for Drew Smyly Tuesday: he covered three scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while fanning five. It is easily his best start with the Hens, but that comes with a HUGE asterisk: He allowed three hits and two walks in 1.2 innings versus Indianapolis April 7 in a tuneup for his major-league debut, and on a rehab assignment June 21 he allowed Lehigh Valley to collect four hits and three runs, two of which were earned, in two innings in a start shortened by rain.
If you notice that his ERA with the Mud Hens is 6.75 this season, don't worry. He just DROPPED his ERA from the 12.27 mark he had before Tuesday. More indicative of the way Smyly has pitched this season is his 4-3 record and 4.42 ERA in 15 starts for Detroit.
On Tuesday Smyly threw a total of 59 pitches, 34 for strikes (57.6 percent). It broke down this way:
- First inning: 23 pitches, 12 strikes (52.2 percent)
- Second inning: 15 pitches, 9 strikes (60 percent)
- Third inning: 21 pitches, 13 strikes (61.9 percent)
As you can see, things got better as the game went on. It's no coincidence that Smyly's two walks allowed both came in the first inning.
The 23-year-old lefty struggled with first-pitch strikes, throwing just five to the 13 batters he faced (38.5 percent). And that was a consistent struggle, going 2-for-5 in the first, 1-for-3 in the second and 2-for-5 in the third. Smyly reached an 0-2 cout three times and got three outs, two by strikeout. He fell behind 2-0 to three batters and gave up a walk and two singles. And he reached a three-ball count four times, giving up two walks and a single while also racking up a strikeout.
Ready for pitch speeds? Here we go ...
- Fastball sat at 90-92 mph (two at 94, two at 93, seven at 92, eight at 91, four at 90).
- Cut fastball (or at least something that acted like a cut fastball, I thought) sat at 88 mph (one at 87, five at 88, two at 89).
- Change-up sat at 81-83 mph (two at 81, one at 82, two at 83, one at 85).
- Curveball sat at 78-79 mph (one at 76, one at 77, nine at 78, five at 79, one at 80).
A few things to note: First, yes, I missed some pitches. Second, Smyly's fastball sat at 92 in the first inning (six times) and got a little faster as he threw (two 93s and two 94s in the third inning). Third, I was surprised that he went to the breaking ball VERY early; most pitchers start out with a lot of fastballs, but he threw a pair of breaking balls amongst his first six pitches.
OK, now let's match up pitch speeds to balls and strikes. Of the 23 fastballs I charted, 12 were strikes (52.2 percent). Louisville batters did not swing and miss once on his fastball, but fouled by five, took three and put four in play. Of the eight "cutters" Smyly threw, four were strikes (one fouled, the other three taken). Of the six change-ups, only two were strikes (both swinging, by the way). And of the 17 curveballs he threw, 12 were strikes (70.6 percent) thanks to SEVEN swings and misses, two fouls and two taken -- only ONE was put into play.
"I felt good," Smyly said after the start. "Obviously my No. 1 concern was that my side felt good, which it did. It didn't bother me.
"I was a little wild throughout the game, trying to get a feel back. I felt fine the whole time, but I was trying to get back my feel for pitching. I was all over the place; I wasn't able to 'spot' pitches like I'd like to. But I'm getting innings and getting work in. I thought it got better as the game went on, and hopefully the next start it's all there, back to normal."
When I asked if there was one particular pitch he had trouble commanding, he said, "I would say all of them. I wasn't missing by much, but I couldn't hit my spots. I was kind of throwing it in there, trying to throw strikes.
"I threw a lot of curveballs. Some times I threw them short, and I couldn't command it well. But I was getting a lot of swings and misses with it, so I kept with it."
When asked about his pitch count for Tuesday, he said, "I could have gone back out, but it was easy to tell I hadn't pitched in a month. I could feel it. Everything felt good -- there wasn't pain. I look forward to get my innings and pitch-count up in August."
When asked about his mind-set following his demotion to Toledo (and the Tigers addition of Anibal Sanchez to take his spot in the rotation), Smyly said, "I can't think about that. My No. 1 goal is staying healthy and trying to get better. If something happens and they need me in September, I want to be 100 percent and ready to go to help the team. Right now I'm focusing on my pitching, and everything else will work out after that.
"I'm working on command my off-speed pitches better, so I'm able to throw them at any point in the count. I want to keep learning to pitch."
Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said of Smyly, "Location-wise he was good with his fastball, but his secondary stuff was just a tick off. But those are the pitches that might take a start or two [to lock in]. I thought he looked fine. He battled through some innings where he had some baserunners, but for the most part he got through."
Click here to read Tuesday's in-game blog. Click here to read an analysis of Andy Dirks and Danny Worth from Tuesday.