Last year, the Detroit Tigers put left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly in the bullpen after he failed to win a job in the rotation in Spring Training. Smyly ended up putting together a fine season in the pen, going 6-0 with a 2.37 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. He also held lefties to a .189 batting average.
This past December, however, an opening in the Tigers’ rotation was created when the team opted to trade Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals. It was originally hoped that Smyly would slide right into that role and become the first truly dependable left-handed starting pitcher the Tigers have had since Kenny Rogers won 17 games all the way back in 2006. Heading into play today, though, Smyly was just 5-8 with a 4.00 ERA in 15 starts this season.
Therefore, some had been calling for the Tigers to move Smyly back into the bullpen, where he was so effective last season, and go out and get another starting pitcher before the deadline. Given the struggles of the Tigers’ bullpen this season, that was certainly a reasonable suggestion.
That said, Smyly went out and twirled an absolute gem this afternoon against the Cleveland Indians, going seven innings, allowing just four hits, one earned run, two walks and striking out six. He did not even allow a hit until the fifth inning, which came with two outs, no less, and the Tigers ultimately won the contest by a score of 5-1. Smyly is now 6-8 on the season, and his ERA is down to 3.80 and his WHIP sits at a respectable 1.33.
Although it is almost certain that Smyly will once again be pitching out of the bullpen in the postseason, if the Tigers are fortunate enough to get there for the fourth-consecutive season, today he went out and proved that he is more than capable of being a quality starter. He also showed why manager Brad Ausmus was wise to have kept him in the rotation up to this point.
The Tigers still, however, might want to move Smyly back into the bullpen before the end of the season in order to help him get re-acclimated to that role before the playoffs. But barring the possibility that the Tigers do pull off a shocker and trade for a starting pitcher, look for Smyly to continue to string together quality starts through at least the end of August.