The pitcher that general manager Jerry Dipoto spent most of the offseason trying to acquire took the mound for his first game this spring. With Dipoto sitting just a few rows behind home plate, left-hander Drew Smyly looked every bit the pitcher that the team envisioned
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Drew Smyly, the pitcher that general manager Jerry Dipoto spent most of the offseason trying to acquire, looked every bit the pitcher the Mariners envisioned.
With Dipoto sitting just a few rows behind home plate of Goodyear Ballpark, along with several members of the Mariners’ baseball operations staff, Smyly pitched two scoreless innings without a hit. The one base runner Smyly allowed came in the second inning on a one-out walk to Yan Gomes. Smyly also had strikeouts of Tyler Naquin and the ultra-dangerous Edwin Encarnacion.
“It was just fun to get back on the field, compete with some new teammates,” said Smyly, acquired in the offseason from the Tampa Bay Rays. “It was a great first start.”
Manager Scott Servais was pleased with the initial outing.
“He got a lot out of it,” Servais said. “He was very crisp, went right after them with a good breaking ball. It was nice to see. For his first time out in a Mariners uniform, he looked very comfortable.”
Admittedly, there was some feeling of wanting to make a good showing for the people that engineered his acquisition and the teammates and staff he’ll be competing with this season.
“There’s always a little bit of urgency, especially with a new team,” he said. “You want to impress everybody, show the coaching staff and the players behind me what I’m capable of.”
Smyly wasn’t certain he would be with the Mariners this season. Going into the offseason, he knew there was a chance he could get traded given that he was arbitration-eligible for a team without a massive payroll and with several young starting pitchers ready for the majors. He was aware Seattle was shopping for starting pitching and read about rumors the Mariners were interested in him. But when the Mariners traded for Yovani Gallardo in early January, Smyly became resigned to a different destination.
“When they traded for Gallardo I actually was like, ‘Oh, I guess I’m not going to get to go to Seattle,’ ” he said. “And then later I did. I was excited to be here.”
When the trade was announced, Dipoto said: “I’ve probably spent more time throughout the course of our offseason trying to acquire Drew Smyly than any other thing that we’ve done.”
Well, with an awful free-agent class for starting pitchers and minimal prospects to swing a trade for a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in an overinflated market, Dipoto viewed Smyly as attainable, controllable and capable of having success with the Mariners.
Smyly, 27, is second-year arbitration eligible and will make $6.85 million this season. He is under club control for the next two years. He made a career-high 30 starts in 2016, posting a 7-12 record with a 4.88 ERA. In 1751/3 innings, Smyly struck out 167 batters with 49 walks. His 2.52 walks per nine innings were seventh-lowest in the American League.
The record and ERA aren’t exactly stellar. Smyly also allowed 32 homers — fourth-most in baseball.
“Obviously I had a little trouble with the home-run ball last season, but hopefully this year a few of them don’t go out and it makes a big difference,” he said. “Maybe Safeco will help a bit, and that could change a lot. I mean, one or two pitches can change the outcome of a game.”
Pitching the bulk of his schedule in the hitter-friendly bandboxes of the American League East was an issue where mistakes are punished even by less than stellar contact.
“The AL East, they’re small ballparks,” he said. “They’re meant for hitters. There are no excuses. I had some great games, and I had some bad games. This will be my first time in the AL West. … I think Safeco can definitely help me. I’m obviously a fly-ball pitcher. I give up more fly balls than ground balls.”
The hope is that 81 games at Safeco, plus night games in Anaheim and Oakland, will be beneficial to Smyly’s fly-ball tendencies. An improved outfield defense should also help him. Dipoto tried to sell him on that aspect.
It wasn’t all awful for him in 2016. He finished strong, posting a 5-1 record with a 3.73 ERA in his final 12 starts with 56 strikeouts and 20 walks in 70 innings. Smyly did some self-assessment of what went wrong and what went right.
“I think in the middle of the season I had a rough stretch with my off-speed pitches,” he said. “I just kind of lost the feel for it a little bit, and when you limit what pitches you could throw up there, it always makes it harder on yourself. I rely a lot on my curveball and I kind of lost it for a few starts, and that was a big part of it.”
• General manager Jerry Dipoto reached a minor milestone on Wednesday, completing his 40th trade since taking over as general manager at the end of the 2015 season.
The Mariners acquired right-handed pitching prospect Chase De Jong from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for a pair of young prospects — infielder Drew Jackson and right-handed pitcher Aneurys Zabala. To make room for De Jong on the 40-man roster, infielder Mike Freeman, who was scratched from the starting lineup before Wednesday’s game in Goodyear, was designated for assignment.
De Jong, 23, posted a 15-5 record and 2.82 ERA in 26 starts combined with Class AA Tulsa (14-5, 2.86 in 25 games started) and Class AAA Oklahoma City (1-0, 1.69 in one start) this past season.