February 26, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Tigers' Drew Smyly shows good stuff in spring training debut as starter

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Considering he had not thrown two full innings in a big league game since last June, Drew Smyly had few complaints Wednesday.

And that was only fair after a man who spent 2013 in the Tigers bullpen returned to his starter’s niche, putting together a passing-grade pair of innings in a 6-5 triumph over the Braves in Detroit’s Grapefruit League opener at Wide World of Sports ballpark.

“I thought it went well,” said Smyly, who is 20 pounds more burly than he was a year ago, and whose bulk might have been behind that 94 mph fastball he showed as early as the first inning. “My arm felt good. My first inning, I don’t think I threw a change-up. I just kind of went out there and competed.”

Smyly, 24, is the resident left-hander in manager Brad Ausmus’ rotation, at least as it currently is crafted. The Tigers understand Smyly’s mission is to resume his old ways as a starter, which means endurance to withstand those longer shifts, and the need for a wider array of pitches, will be part of the program.

Not coincidentally, Smyly sailed through five Braves batters Wednesday before a double, single, and walk gave Atlanta its first run. But also evident, beyond his need to go deeper into games, was Smyly’s repertoire as it became fully unveiled in the second inning.

He threw change-ups, cutters, and a slider to go with his slightly speedier fastball. Smyly has almost as many pitches as his rotation cohort Anibal Sanchez. And, generally speaking, they behaved.

“My second inning, I threw like seven or eight (change-ups),” Smyly said. “Probably more than I would in certain situations. Threw a couple of bad ones. But that’s just part of it. I have a month to keep getting better.”

Rain game

There were two out in the Braves half of the ninth when the game was halted because of rain that had been falling steadily in the latter innings.

About 10 minutes later, the game was called. And the big question was: Who won?

The Tigers scored two runs in the top of the ninth to take a 6-5 lead. In normal situations, if the home team hasn’t had a chance to complete its half of the inning, the inning’s first-half runs don’t count.

But because this was technically a suspended game, with no completion possible due to Grapefruit League scheduling realities, the game was pronounced final.

And with that judgment the Tigers were awarded a 6-5 victory.

Reliever injured

The Tigers lost a pitcher late in the game when Eduardo Sanchez, a right-hander signed during the offseason as a minor league free agent, left in the seventh after throwing only four pitches.

Sanchez, 25, felt pain in his right elbow and will have an examination today. Ausmus acknowledged that he was “concerned” about a hard-throwing Venezuelan who has had past health issues.

The Tigers used eight pitchers, with Blaine Hardy following Sanchez and getting the victory.

Phil Coke was part of the eight-man parade and pitched a scoreless inning, allowing a hit, while neither striking out nor walking a batter.

Al Alburquerque also pitched an inning. He was nicked for a hit and also struck out a batter.

Next up

The Tigers meet the Braves again today, this time for a 1:05 p.m. matchup at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Rick Porcello will start for the Tigers.


Drew Smyly works in the first inning Wednesday against the Braves. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News