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Rays' Smyly shows progress in second start back

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Drew Smyly works against the Oakland Athletics during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) OAS102
Published Aug. 23, 2015

OAKLAND, Calif. — As poorly as Drew Smyly seemed to pitch last Sunday in his first game back after a three-month disabled list stint rehabbing his sore left shoulder, Rays staff insisted it saw reasons to be encouraged and to expect better his next time out.

Friday night, that was exactly what happened. Smyly looked much sharper, working five-plus shutout innings, allowing seven hits but no walks and getting two huge outs when he needed to in the Rays' 2-1 win over the A's.

"We didn't really read too much into one start coming back," manager Kevin Cash said. "I think you've got to allow these guys coming back from injury and extended time off a little bit of leeway to let them get back into the big-league atmosphere and on the mound, all of those things factor into it.

"I think we all said we were very optimistic that after that start that he would bounce right back, and he made all of us look smart because he did."

Smyly had also spoken confidently going into the start against Oakland that he expected to pitch better, but his words lacked some conviction.

The solid outing was not only a sign of his physical progress but provided a needed boost to his own confidence, tested by the long, mundane process of strengthening and stabilizing his shoulder and four unimpressive minor-league rehab starts on the way back.

"It feels good," Smyly said. "I feel like I needed this game. I needed an outing to bounce back. I felt like I've been throwing a lot of strikes but for whatever reason been giving up some hits, timely hits. (Friday night) it went my way, so it felt good to get those outs, those big outs when you needed to do it. Someone gets a hit right there, it could have been a different story. I was able to bear down right there and hit my spots."

Smyly started strong, retiring 11 of the first 12 A's hitters while working with a 1-0 lead, but found himself twice in precarious positions.

In the fifth, he allowed a pair of two-out singles but came back to get Billy Burns swinging at a 92 mph fastball, slapping his glove in a rare show of onfield emotion.

Then in the sixth, a leadoff single and two more with one out left him with the bases loaded and dangerous Brett Lawrie at the plate. But Smyly, after falling behind 2-and-1, came back to get Lawrie swinging and missing at his 91st and final pitch of the night. Brandon Gomes, Steve Geltz and Brad Boxberger, in a 33-pitch adventure of a ninth, took it from there as the Rays hung on.

"He had a really good feel of his offspeed pitches," Cash said. "He got some weak fly balls, some pop-ups, some misses in there. He was very sharp. He provided us a big boost."

Smyly said the improvement from his first start to his second was significant.

"I thought I threw the ball way better, especially with my offspeed and my curve, my fastball command," he said. "I was getting in there on some of those righties, throwing my curveball down and away. It just helps when you can locate all your pitches. In Texas I was pretty much throwing like two pitches. My curveball wasn't any good, It was pretty much fastball-slider.

"I commanded the strike zone way better with all my pitches."

His next start is Thursday at the Trop.

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

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