Last week, the staff writers for MCB were asked whether this season was Rick Porcello‘s time to shine, or whether that opportunity rested more on the shoulders of Drew Smyly. I was one of the two writers who chose Smyly. This is not to say that I think Porcello will fail this season, more that Porcello has been in this situation before and this is Smyly’s first real shot. From what I’ve seen of Smyly, he doesn’t strike me as the kind of pitcher to let a chance like this pass him by.
Smyly must realize that the Doug Fister trade was made to give him a slot in the rotation, and I’m sure he wants to prove to the Tigers and their passionate fans that Dave Dombrowski made the right decision. That he is the man who you want to have the ball in a scary, late-game situation. That he can shut opponents down and fit in with the rest of the Tigers stellar, star studded rotation.
Who could forget his lights out performance in game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, coming in to close out a game that the Tigers should have had won in the ninth inning; until Jose Valverde imploded(again) and the offense took extra innings to reclaim a lead that never should have been lost. Smyly pitched the 11th and 12th innings that night, facing a struggling but powerful Yankees lineup that was poised to strike and fueled by their ninth inning rally. He gave up just one hit, struck out two, and after Delmon Young drove in Miguel Cabrera in the 12th inning to give the Tigers the lead, Smyly shut the door and took home his first post-season win in his first ever post season appearance. Those big innings, the innings that would turn the series in favor of either team on one mistake, were Smyly’s first ever innings in post season play.
To say that situation places a lot of stress and responsibility on the shoulders of a rookie pitcher would be an understatement, but Smyly was cool and calm. He kept focused on the prize, the W in parentheses by his name in the box score. More importantly, he showed in real time that his teammates and coaches could trust him with the ball in a nerve wracking situation.
Smyly proved himself time and again last season, coming out of the bull pen, late in the game to protect a one run lead, and he did well. So well, in fact that he was easily one of the best left handed relievers in the league in 2013. With an ERA of 2.37 in 76 innings pitched, Smyly gave up only 17 walks and struck out 81, leaving him with a WHIP of 1.039 and a K/9 of 9.6. Pretty excellent stats for a pitcher who had to make the adjustment to the bull pen after losing the starting job in spring training.
This season, the ball is his from the start. He’s moving back to his natural, comfortable spot as a starter and he has something to prove. Not only to Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ brass, his coaches and teammates, and the fans. But to himself. Smyly is smart and he knows that a top 15 starter was given up for him, so that he could have his shot. The tenacity he showed that night in October of 2012 hasn’t diminished, and Smyly is prepared to take the mound, ready to show everyone, including himself, that the Dombrowski and Tigers got it right.