Durham, NC (Aug. 6) – Drew Smyly trotted out to the mound, ready to go. Wet weather pushed back the game by only 5 minutes, grounds crew chief Scott Strickland with his finger on the pulse of the evening’s barometer, but the southpaw was ready to jump Thursday as the rotisserie of Indy’s hitters was set turning by the umpire’s familiar invocation.
Smyly is looking to ease back into competitive pitching, the hiatus being a bugaboo of a tear in his labrum, right above the shoulder blade. As he looks to work his way back with the Durham Bulls, he faced Indianapolis and a pretty tough lineup of hitters and fast runners.
He warmed into attack mode as he went longer in the game, working his curveball in and trying to pitch his way back out of trouble in the count.
Another lefthander under the microscope. They’ve been talking a lot about Blake Snell in Durham lately. Smyly is not a young prospect, but a curiosity for a different reason. The question is can he demonstrate health and readiness to pitch, and can he, with perhaps Matt Moore and Matt Andriese, help push Tampa Bay into a playoff seat via baseball’s wild card?
Smyly gave up four runs, all earned, the first being Gustavo Nunez’ home run as the game’s second batter. Hanson had bunted into Maile’s glove, but Nunez jumped a lob from Smyly and sent it over the wall.
In the opposite corner was Tyler Glasnow, a pitcher with long shanks who threw, and threw hard. Corey Brown was wrung out by Glasnow’s fastball with a bout 96 on it. Then his pal J.P. Arencibia fanned on another pitch with zip. The freshman pitcher was just throwing all fastballs, wild, the frontier way.
Smyly took a page out of Glasnow with a busher’s elevated fastball to strike out Tony Sanchez leading off the 2nd. He started throwing harder, then varying his speed and location to become very tricky against Indy’s hitters.
In the fourth, Gamache singled to drive in Dacker and push Bell to 2nd. Then Alex Hanson singled to drive in Bell. Hanson had scored in the 3rd off Elias Diaz’s triple
He walked two and struck out five on the game. Jhan Marinez replaced him in the fifth, after Smyly got Elias Diaz to line out to Corey Brown.
Marinez got into trouble, walking Keon Broxton and hitting Tony Sanchez. But good fielding forced out Broxton at third on Decker’s grounder, and Marinez struck out Josh Bell swinging to escape. Scott Diamond got the win on the books in Durham’s go-ahead inning, the 6th.
Luke Maile caught and homered for Durham. He’s batting .200, but he’s had a lot on his plate this year, and he has the ability to see and hit the ball.
Maile made a nice catch on Hanseon’s bunt hanging up towards first base, reminiscent of a play he made late in a game early in May, when he was backup to Curt Casali, going back-to-back days with the former Vanderbilt player. Now, Casali is making a contribution behind the plate in Tampa, and Maile is the everyday catcher for the Bulls. He is relieved now and then by a reemergent Mayo Acosta.
An observation: during his starts for the Bulls, Smyly has sometimes looked more like he is merely going through is reps than actually pitching. There could actually be truth to this. He’s supposed to work his body and his pitches over in the minors, where he isn’t fishing for a crucial win in a wild card chase up the stretch. . . That will probably wait until at least a week from now, and Smyly will perhaps make one more start with Durham before being paired against major league hitters.
Smyly threw more curvy stuff this time, out of the gate, but the first hitters didn’t give him much time to get behind in counts. The first batter to touch him popped out, the second batter, Nunez, homered. Smyly nibbled the zone until Broxton fished at it, and Maile scooped the low curve to throw out Elias Diaz trying to steal first.
Smyly’s changes went down to the seventies and his fastball skirted his usual currents in the low nineties. The curve was overhand and he was through two innings on 33 pitches.
He gave up a home run before the game had barely begun, to the shortstop Gustavo Nunez on a floating curve or change. Smyly looked a little as if he were lobbing it over which is what he should do, not push his body as the shoulder recovers.
But as Smyly threw more pitches his stuff got better, and he was able to change speeds on his location and to throw a garden variety of pitches. He is a clever pitcher who seems to compete with himself for his best pitches, a better thing perhaps than to see yourself in competition with the dizzying, ever-changing hitter in the batter’s box.
The Bulls stole a ton of bases on Indy. They stole six of them on the combination of Sanchez, Corey Brown, Boog Powell, Elmore, Motter, Rickard Hak-Ju Lee, who stole two on two successive pitches by Glasnow in the 2nd, and Elmore, who tried to steal another but was caught in Sanchez’ only bright moment as a piece of backstop artillery.
The Bulls pulled into striking distance in the second with the interesting speed combination of Hak-Ju Lee at third (through the graces of two steals) and Boog Powell at first, Jaff Dekker in left field made a heavy good play to rob the new Bull Rickard from a hit and the inning ended.
Their big inning was the 5th, when newbie Joey Rickard walked, stole a base and scored on a wild pitch, then Corey Brown crossed the plate on Arencibia’s grounder to left. Arencibia scored on Hak-Ju Lee’s single the pitcher could not field.
Brown had two hits and two runs batted in. Lee, another lefty, walked twice and had a hit, and Boog Powell also walked twice. Maile’s homer came in the 7th, off Bleich, who replaced A.J. Morris in Morris’ only poor performance in recent memory.
Not known whether Smyly would fly back to Florida for medical evaluation or remain in Durham.