The starter saw an increase in velocity while pitching against Felix Hernandez and Venezuela. He’s hoping to the uptick will stick around for the season.
PEORIA, Ariz. — A large part of Drew Smyly wished he was still in San Diego getting ready to cheer on his Team USA teammates in Friday night’s game against Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. The pride of playing for his country was something he embraced.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was a sweet experience. I just soaked up every moment of it. I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”
But another part of Smyly was also ready to continue his spring training progression and start preparing for the 2017 season.
“It feels good that I will be back to a normal routine,” he said. “While I was there, it was hectic at times.”
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Smyly returned to the Mariners’ complex on Friday morning, two days after a brilliant outing at Petco Park against Venezuela. It was pitchers duel vs. teammate Felix Hernandez. And while neither figured in the decision, both were outstanding.
With his family watching in the stands and cheering wildly, Smyly pitched 42/3 innings, giving up one unearned run on three hits with no walks and eight strikeouts. Smyly struck out the last six batters he faced, including Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Rougned Odor and Carlos Gonzalez.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going,” he said. “It felt like a playoff game. It felt like we had to win and you had to give your best performance. Everyone in that locker room wants to win and show that the USA can compete with the best. It was just an awesome experience. I had a lot of juices flowing.”
It wasn’t your typical third start of spring training. Petco was packed and rocking with constant cheering. The stakes were certainly elevated. This wasn’t just about getting his work in.
“It was different,” he said. “The intensity level was really high. I kind of knew going in that it would be, but once I got out on the mound, it was a whole other level. I’m glad I got to experience it.”
The intensity was also piqued by the collection of hitters that Venezuela had in its lineups. There were no free outs and no minor league call-ups like in a Cactus League game.
“You read the names; you saw,” he said. “It was a really good lineup, which also made you focus in even more so. It was an awesome challenge. I’m glad I got to experience it and just tried to make the most of it.”
Smyly made it look easy, flashing a live fastball with pinpoint location, including elevating past hitters. His curveball was nasty and darting and his cutter and changeup were also effective.
“Everything (was working),” he said. “I was just locked in. I had good command. I was jacked up and probably throwing a little harder than I usually do. I knew I only had 60 pitches so I tried to make the most of it.”
Ah yes, the fastball velocity. Smyly’s fastball showed more velocity than a year ago Much was made of it by scouts and analysts. Per FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball, he threw 13 fastballs that were 93 mph or higher. He threw 25 four-seam fastballs that averaged out to be 92.7 mph. Over the last four seasons, Smyly’s fastball averaged right around 90 mph.
There wasn’t an easy answer for the uptick in velocity, but extra rest, adrenaline and early in the year are all factors. Smyly wouldn’t mind if it continued to stay there.
“I hope so,” he said “It would be nice. I don’t know. … I don’t feel like I was throwing harder than I ever have before. I’ve definitely thrown 94 in the past. I don’t make much out of it. Hopefully, I can carry it all season. But it’s a long season.”
But Smyly’s hard work in the offseason to get stronger and his continued maturation could also be contributing factors.
“I work hard every offseason, every spring,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. But it’s hard to maintain that for 30 starts. If I can, then it will be great.”
After such a stellar outing, there was some discussion in the media that he should stay with Team USA and possibly pitch five days later if needed. But he still returned to Peoria after the one start. Whether it was his decision was uncertain.
“Yeah, you want to be there as long as you can with the team,” he said. “It was such an awesome experience to be in the same locker room with those guys. The plan all along was one start. That’s what it was from the beginning — just one start and come back. That’s what I did.”
• Jarrod Dyson had some tightness and fatigue in his legs and was lifted after one inning from Friday morning’s game in Scottsdale. Dyson scored from first on Kyle Seager’s double to right-center, but didn’t show his normal burst of speed. He told Servais on Friday morning about feeling a little fatigued but wanting to play. Servais saw Dyson moving slowly and pulled him immediately.
• Right-handed reliever Shae Simmons (forearm strain) is feeling better but has yet to start throwing. Servais admitted that Simmons’ arm strength might have to be built up again, meaning starting over with his throwing progression. That will obviously lengthen out any time frame before a return. The Mariners have no projected return yet.
“We will be very cautious with him,” Servais said. “There isn’t a whole lot of talk about where he’s at and when he might start throwing again.”
• Right-handed reliever Tony Zych (offseason shoulder surgery) will throw another live batting practice session on Sunday. He could make his Cactus League debut later next week.