Drew Smyly made his debut in a Rays jersey this evening, squaring off against former Rays pitcher Jason Hammel --traded to Oakland from the Cubs a month ago, and thus far struggling for the A's.
The new Rays starter had struggled with more flyballs that usual this season, so beginning his Rays career on the road but at O.co stadium. A few initial notes as he takes the mound:
- The Rays deemed it fine to issue Drew Smyly a certain jersey number 33, formerly worn by Big Game James Shields, which was awkward and sad, personally speaking. I understand that some players feel attached to their numbers, and making Drew feel comfortable in his transfer from post-season near-lock Detroit to down-on-our-luck Tampa Bay, but it's jarring nonetheless.
- Drew Smyly wastes no time between pitches, the only solace for batters was when they stepped out of the box. Otherwise it was 15 seconds to the next pitch, which is a blessing for a late night affair three time zones away.
- Catcher on the evening Curt Casali employed hand touches around his body to call the game, as opposed to pointing fingers as is standard, something apparently associated with how the new Rays pitcher works from the mound. A rare process
- Control on the slider was erratic, a pitch in the dirt several times, but the two-seam was dealing. Smyly used it to strike out Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes in the first frame, both arm side. This would work for him all night.
The Rays challenged Hammel in the second on two outs, with Yunel Escobar dashing from first to third with a dramatic slide on back-to-back singles by himself and Cole Figueroa, followed by a Curt Casali walk, but stud Kevin Kiermaier hit a chopper to end the threat. They tried again in the third, starting with a leadoff walk, a Zobrist FC, and a Matt Joyce single, but Longoria found a double play with two men on.
Meanwhile, Smyly was battling. A nice snag on the one-hop by Figueroa, followed by a strikeout then a pick off cleaned the second. Two flyballs and a Coco Crisp called looking (again, two-seamer arm side) to conclude the third. Two hits, no walks.
The Fourth: A jam for Mr. Smyly
Another double play led the fourth inning, after a Loney 0-2 single and a Yunel groundball to Josh Donaldson (who leads 3B's in DP's started). Figueroa singled again, this time opposite field, and Curt Casali (he of .111 average) singled the same, but Kevin Kiermaier followed with a can-of-corn to Sam Fuld.
Fuld at the plate led the bottom of the fourth, with a probable foul ball instead getting nubbed into fair territory for a lead off single, then advancing on a slider in the dirt to Josh Donaldson. In the same at bat, Smyly used two new pitches in a change up (strike two) and a curveball (ball four), putting two on and none out.
After a missed call inside for strike three to Derek Norris, Smyly got the catcher chasing on some kind of breaking ball -- what looked to be an 84 cutter that the bottom just fell out of -- nasty. The A's responded with a double steal on a 1-2 count, then the Rays intentionally walked the batter, power hitting rookie Nate Freiman (??? with two strikes on the count?) in order to face lefty Josh Reddick. Controversial, but effective in the end, with Reddick popping out on a slider below the zone. Hickey had gone out to explain to Smyly after the IBB, then gave the kid a big hug as he entered the dugout, as if to say sorry for putting you through hell, kid.
The Fifth: Drew allows a run
Desmond Jennings led with a walk, advanced on a pitch in the dirt/grass (it landed early), then was tagged advancing on another Zobrist FC. Matt Joyce struck out, then Longo was nearly out on a flyball lofted to shallow right field, opposite the shift. Josh Reddick advanced and dove, but the snowcone rattled out of the glove to put runners on the corners. Unfortunately, Loney fouled out in the stadium's cavernous territory.
Eight men left on base in four innings. Moving on.
Having rested a while but at 77 pitches, Drew began his share of the fifth with a single to Alberto Callaspo on a two-seam glove side. Smyly fielded a stellar bunt by Drew Sogard on the next at bat, firing to James Loney for the bang-bang out. The play showed nice composer and excellent arm on a fielding play.
The next play, however, Smyly wasn't lined up behind Casali after a single to right field. Kiermaier sailed the throw dramatically, scoring the runner and letting Coco Crisp hustle to third base. 1-0 Athletics
Defending the Rays from a runner on third, Smyly broke out the sub-85 cutter to strike out Sam Fuld. Other cutters by Smyly stay upper eighties, but with the high arm angle allows him to take speed off and create a devastating weapon. To retire Donaldson, who's becoming somewhat of a nemesis for Smyly, he changed pace with a slider well in the zone, and Longoria fielded the sharply hit ground ball.
Smyly escapes further damage on his 93rd pitch.
The Sixth: Rays get lazy
Hammel led his next turn with a four pitch walk to Yunel Escobar, and the A's got the bullpen stirring. Flyballs to the outfield then infield logged two outs, and Yunel was nearly doubled up on the latter, but Donaldson's throw back to first was well wide of the base. Freidman saved the errant throw from skipping by, but Yunel was able to waltz back casually. The A's then lifted their starter, 5.2 IP with seven hits, four walks, two K's, but no runs. Replaced by O'Flaherty, the lefty specialist got Kiermaier swinging. This was not KK's night.
Smyly returned and battled Jonny Gomes for seven pitches, culminating in a line out to center field, opting fastball high and away three times to the slugger. On the 102nd pitch, catcher Derek Norris singled lightly to left field, and the Rays left Smyly in to face Nate Freidman, the right handed 6'8" first baseman. Smyly went almost all fastballs, and Freidman drove the fourth one he saw past Zobrist in left.
Yunel Escobar fielded the cut off on Zobrist's decent throw, but appeared surprised the catcher Norris was advancing on home plate. He rifled to Casali but nearly a third of the way up the right field line. Embarrassingly, 2-0 Athletics
Joe Maddon lifted Smyly with 5.1 IP to his name, with seven hits, two walks, and six K's, on a night he certainly seemed like the better starting pitcher, even if the box score lied. The Rays replaced Smyly with fellow young southpaw Jeff Beliveau to face Josh Reddick, and he wacked a two-seam above the zone opposite field. The run is charged to Smyly, 3-0 Athletics
Ninth hitter Eric Sogard walked on five pitches, and the top of the order returned with two on and two out. A curveball with some filthy run bounded out of Casali's glove and got away as he tried to back hand nonchalantly. The runners advanced, so the Rays intentionally walked Crisp to load 'em up again. Beliveau still the pitcher for Sam Fuld, and a curveball away would be enough for an easy groundball.
The Seventh: MLB Record Reached
Ryan Cook was the new pitcher for the A's. He got Jennings looking with three pitches, then easy outs from Zobrist and Joyce on the first pitch each. Yes, five pitches.
Kirby Yates was the new pitcher for the Rays. Donaldson took than whiffed, waited out two below the zone, then drove a line drive to dead center. Jennings ranged back, and snagged it on the run with arm outstretched toward the sky, a nice play. Jonny Gomes followed with a bloop to shallow center, but Yates responded. A slider away got Derek Norris swinging, then pulled the same trick on Freidman.
With that, the eighth strike out on the evening, the Rays broke a major league record -- the first team in baseball history to reach 1,000 strikeouts in only 113 games.
The Eighth and Ninth
The offense followed with another three easy outs, this time to Luke Gregerson and his fastball. Longro flyball, Loney ground out, Escobar fly ball, eleven pitches in total.
Facing Cesar Ramos, Josh "Smooth Jazz" Reddick advanced on catcher interference, when his bat knicked Casali's glove on a would-be easy groundball. Alberto Callaspo followed with a liner past a ranging Yunel Escobar for two on and none out. Light hitting Eric Sogard bunted the runners over, his second excellent bunt of the night.
Coco Crisp lined a sinker two pitches later straight to Escobar. Finally awake, he fired to Longoria and doubled up the runner. So, Ramos escapes.
Sean Doolittle, closer, then got Logan Forsythe(for Cole Figueroa) swinging, Casali popped out to short, and Sean Rodriguez (for Kevin Kiermaier) grounded out, twelve pitches in total.
Athletics win 3-0, the fourteenth shut out on the season for Tampa Bay.
- Before the broadcast, Jim Hickey commented on his approach to tinkering with Drew Smyly's game. Normally, the pitching coach noted, he would wait six starts to begin making adjustments. Given the situation, he'll likely accelerate to three starts
- Hand signs from the catcher is a unique thing for the Rays catchers, certainly not something I've ever recalled used by the Rays, and the broadcast could not remember an instance either. Brian Anderson postulated that perhaps Drew Smyly requested hand signs after the league started learning his traditional signs, referencing a four-homer fiasco in Smyly's last visit to O.co Stadium.
- The full array of pitches from Smyly this evening were a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a cutter at ~87, a fall-off-the-table cutter at ~84, a change up at ~82, a slider at ~78, and a curveball at ~76. Good luck reading the PitchFX on this one.
- The new major league record of 1,000 strikeouts in 113 games was previously broken by the Detroit Tigers on their 114th game in 2013.