When the Detroit Tigers traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, it created a window for Drew Smyly to move back into the starting rotation and for Rick Porcello to move up a spot in the rotation. Porcello and Smyly can each be expected to do fine work for the 2014 Tigers and step right into the new roles they have been assigned.
Placing Smyly back into the rotation was a brilliant move by the Tigers, as it finally gives the team a left-handed starter. Having a lefty in the rotation will come in handy as many AL Central teams, especially the Kansas City Royals, are loaded with quality left-handed bats such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon. Moreover, Smyly has really dominated left-handed hitters thus far over his two-year career.
Although the Tigers had an incredibly solid rotation in 2013, it was comprised entirely of right-handed arms. As a matter of fact, it has been quite awhile since the Tigers have had a solid left-handed arm in the rotation. The Dontrelle Willis experiment from 2008-10 was an abject disaster, as was Phil Coke‘s short-lived stint in the rotation in 2011.
One really needs to travel all the way back to the season that Kenny Rogers put together in 2006 to cite the last time the Tigers had a truly dependable left-handed starter for an entire season — until now.
Smyly last pitched in the rotation in 2012, and at the time he appeared to be the left-handed arm that the Tigers had been yearning for ever since Rogers hung up his spikes after the 2008 season. In 18 starts, Smyly posted a 4-3 record with an ERA of 3.79 and averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. However, he spent much of the final two months of the season in the bullpen after the Tigers acquired Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins.
Smyly was moved to the bullpen full time in 2013 after losing a Spring Training battle with Porcello for the final spot in the Tigers’ crowded rotation. He really embraced the role he was given and became one of the few dependable arms that the Tigers had out of the bullpen. He was 6-0 with an ERA of 2.37, and also held lefties to a mere .189 batting average — not too shabby.
This spring, although Smyly is being asked to step into a new role once again, it will be very familiar territory for him. In addition to his aforementioned 18 starts in 2012, Smyly came up as a starter and rose through the Tigers’ farm system at an exceptionally torrid pace. In 2011, during Smyly’s lone full season in the minor leagues, he split time between single-A Lakeland and double-A Erie and posted an 11-6 record with an astonishing 2.07 ERA in 22 games with 21 starts.
Smyly is not very far removed from being a starting pitcher, and the evidence suggests that the learning curve should not be too steep for the 24-year-old. Moving back into the rotation should be like riding a bike for him. It would hardly be surprising to see Smyly have 13-16 wins with an ERA under 4.00 by the time the leaves turn brown next fall.
In 2014, Smyly is very likely to put together the finest season the Tigers have seen from a left-handed starter since the season that Rogers turned in eight years ago during the Tigers’ magical 2006 season.