Anaheim, Calif. — It’s something to work on for Drew Smyly, the pursuit of perfection.
A left-handed pitcher, four years out of college, will need to be far closer to immaculate than he was Friday against the Angels as he and the Tigers lost a 2-1 game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
As he reflects on events, Smyly will want to do something about those two runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings. He will regret allowing the Angels a whopping four hits.
As for strikeouts, he had only 11 — a mere 10 in the first five innings, and only six consecutive punch-outs during a siege that stretched from the second into the fourth inning.
Even that perfect game he was throwing one out into the fifth — could he not have extended it for four more innings? That is, if he wanted to win rather than be left standing in front of his locker in the Tigers clubhouse, saying:
“I made only two bad pitches. Kendrick, I kind of hung a curveball — and that last pitch to Navarro.”
Of course, Smyly and everyone in the Tigers clubhouse knew a guy who had, in fact, pitched a mini-masterpiece against the Angels deserved something other than a defeat on an evening when Smyly’s cut fastball should have been arrested for assault.
But even a man pitching as lethally as Smyly was dealing needs his batting mates to score more than a single run.
Their only run Friday came in the fourth when Miguel Cabrera knocked a 93-mph fastball from Tyler Skaggs, on a 3-and-1 count, into the right-field bleachers. They otherwise had only five hits. They took zero advantage of the rare invitations to win a second consecutive game against the Angels and honor Smyly’s effort.
“As much as it was Drew Smyly’s night, it was their pitching staff that was a run better,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who watched his starter 11 times put away Angels batters, the most strikeouts in any appearance by Smyly since he arrived in Detroit two seasons ago.
“That cutter must have had some real depth. Right-hand batters were all swinging at it like it was a fastball and were swinging right over the top of it.”
Smyly is 6-9 on the season, which isn’t the brand of win-loss numbers you expect from a starter with a 3.77 ERA.
But for whatever reason — and good pitching by the Angels was pretty much the story — Tigers batters tend to have awful nights when Smyly is pitching.
They did again Friday, with catcher Alex Avila having a most forgettable evening. Avila had two strikeouts and swatted a ground ball that turned into a double play after Nick Castellanos led off the fifth with a single.
Avila, though, had company on a night when Detroit’s offense was all but unplugged.
After two-out singles by Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the sixth, J.D. Martinez was safe on an error by third baseman David Freese. Torii Hunter, who knows a bit about delivering big hits at this venue from his days with the Angels, instead struck out swinging.
The Tigers, in fact, struck out 10 times, including all three at-bats against one of the Angels’ nasty back-end relievers, Kevin Jepsen.
Avila offset a terrific night behind the plate, directing Smyly’s pitch blend and throwing out Erick Aybar on an attempted steal, with three bad at-bats that have left him 1-for-15 on a road trip that continues tonight and Sunday against the Angels.
“I don’t know that there’s necessarily a take,” Ausmus said of Avila’s woes. “He’s struggling against lefties.”
Asked if he had contemplated starting Bryan Holaday against Skaggs or other left-handers, Ausmus said: “I’ve thought about it. There are things still that Alex does behind the plate that are very valuable.”
Smyly and the Tigers might have avoided Friday’s gut-punch had things gone differently in the sixth, particularly in the game-winning at-bat against Efren Navarro.
Chris Iannetta had nicked Smyly with a one-out double to left-center and scored a batter later when Kole Calhoun steered an opposite-field double past third base to tie the game, 1-1.
Smyly got the Angels’ fearsome Mike Trout for his 11th strikeout, which spurred Ausmus to walk Albert Pujols with first base open and the left-handed swinging Navarro next in line.
Smyly got Navarro to 1-and-2. He threw a cutter that Navarro all but grazed, sending it on a slow, bouncing track past Smyly’s legs and into center field, which brought home Calhoun with the go-ahead run.
“He hit it as far off the end of the bat as you can,” Avila said of Navarro’s single. “It was one of those 25-hoppers that was just bad luck there.”
Smyly, though, wasn’t pleased with the pitch. Not when Navarro was in a two-strike hole.
“I could probably have thrown three pitches in the dirt,” Smyly said, “and he might have swung at one of ’em.”
Or, the Tigers could have done a bit better job on their end of finding holes and poking consecutive doubles that might have produced more than a single run.
“The frustrating thing about baseball,” said Ausmus , speaking of good pitches Smyly got beat on in the sixth, “you can do things right and still get punished for it.”
The Tigers took their punishment Friday night. They’ll see what amends some low-pulse hitters have in mind tonight when Justin Verlander takes his turn against those resourceful Angels.