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Smyly strong again for Rays in possible final start of season

Drew Smyly has a 1.70 ERA through his first seven starts with the Rays after allowing one run in six innings during Saturday’s walkoff win vs. the Orioles.
Drew Smyly has a 1.70 ERA through his first seven starts with the Rays after allowing one run in six innings during Saturday’s walkoff win vs. the Orioles.
Published Sep. 7, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — They'll huddle today or soon thereafter, Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman, manager Joe Maddon and other team officials discussing whether to shut down Drew Smyly for a season that has already stretched his workload to a career-high 153 innings or squeeze in one more start.

But there is no debate, with Smyly's work in Saturday's 3-2 walkoff-passed-ball win over the Orioles as the latest example, they have been thrilled with what they've seen since acquiring the left-hander from Detroit in the David Price trade.

"Outstanding," Maddon said. "Really something to look forward to in the future. He's really good. He's really good. He's going to keep getting better. He's understanding himself. His ability right now to get out righties, which had been a problem for him, really speaks to future success. I've just been totally impressed with everything about him. We all have."

Smyly was sharp over six innings, allowing just a solo homer to Chris Davis and three singles. Only a blown save by Jake McGee in the eighth, before the Rays rallied for their first-ever win on a passed ball, cost Smyly the W.

Still, in seven Tampa Bay starts, Smyly is 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA that is the best through that stretch for any Ray and a .155 opponents' average that leads the American League over that span. Price, in seven starts for the Tigers, is 2-3, 4.10.

"I think we've got to be happy with what we've got," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "(Smyly) gave us a lot to look forward to and be excited about."

"He's been awesome," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "He's got a high ceiling. I think he's just starting to come into his own in terms of really establishing himself as the guy. He's throwing like an ace right now. It's awesome to see. The future is bright. It's going to be fun working with him."

Smyly, 25, would like to keep pitching now. But he knows where the Rays are coming from: trying to limit what has been a significant increase in innings as part of their successful injury prevention protocol, which calls for a 20 percent annual max.

"He's right on the edge," Maddon said.

Actually, probably over it. Smyly worked 126 minor-league innings in 2011, 117 mostly in the majors in 2012, only 76 out of the Tigers bullpen last year. And now he's at 153, pitching for a team that, at 69-74, isn't playing for anything worth risking injury or tempting fate.

"You want to keep going," Smyly said. "I understand it completely on their side, but as a competitor you want to keep going out there. You can always say, what's the difference of two more starts, or three more starts, whatever it's going to end up being.

"But you've just got to be careful. I know I'm young, so hopefully I've got a lot more years to play. Just trying to stay healthy so I get what they're trying to do, 100 percent."

Smyly (9-10, 3.24 overall in 28 games, 25 starts) feels good about what he has done and about that future with the Rays. He has been labeled as a mid-rotation starter, but mentioning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee as the pitcher he patterns himself after, and even Price, he shows that competitiveness that the Rays liked in addition to his quality pitching.

"I think I had a great season in Detroit and I think here, I definitely took it to another level, and maybe that's where I can be, season-end, throughout the season," he said. "I don't know. I mean next year's a new year, next game's a new game. But if you can do it once, why can't you do it again? So that's definitely the mind-set. I pitched really good for seven starts here, so why I can't I do it for 30 starts next year?"

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.