Today at one o’clock a battle for early American League supremacy will take place at Comerica Park. The first two games in the Tigers/Rays series haven’t disappointed, each team winning a game, and each team sitting at 4-1 overall. The impressive thing from both teams has been the starting pitching. I know it’s early, but so far, fans of both clubs have to like what they see from their favorite squad. Matt Moore, James Shields, Rick Porcello, and Justin Verlander have all turned in stellar performances thus far, and now the series is going to be decided by Jeff Niemann and Tigers rookie Drew Smyly.
This is the first career start for Smyly, who has enjoyed a somewhat meteoric rise in his career thus far. Seen as a darkhorse for the 5th rotation spot at the start of training camp, Smyly was just good enough in a group of pitchers that were passing that job around like a hot potato. After just one year of minor league baseball, Drew Smyly is now a major leaguer.
I am sure we are going to see a good amount of nerves from Smyly early in the game, and it will be one of the big keys to his success, maintaining his nerves so he can command his pitches. The Rays are a good team for him to start against, simply because they aren’t the most imposing offense in the world, despite their early season success so far. He also can relax a little knowing that the Tigers offense is pretty darn good, and they are likely to score a few runs themselves.
Opposing pitcher, Jeff Niemann had a battle this spring himself as well. Niemann battled fellow starter Wade Davis for the last spot in the rotation, after the Rays rightfully decided that Matt Moore needed a spot. We saw why Moore is part of the rotation on Tuesday, and Niemann is going to get a chance to show the Rays made the right choice in selecting him over Davis. Truth is, Davis is likely to get some starts anyway, as Niemann can rarely stay healthy for a full season, but he is the better pitcher.
Niemann has been solid in 5 career games against the Tigers, posting an ERA of 3.48, and in 10 Comerica Park innings he has only allowed 3 runs.
This is a different offense that Niemann is facing, so I suspect that today’s game is going to be quite different from the first two. Some runs are going to be scored today. Well, I think there will be anyway.
A first start from a quality prospect like Smyly is always an exciting thing, and while it will be difficult to live up to the first two games in the series, watching the rookie go out there on the mound should be fun.
Watching him win his first game would be even better.