Smyly wins his case, again

The Tigers go into the season with a downright scary offense, a top-four rotation that can cover innings, and a bullpen that can carry a lead for a good while if they have to. They play in a division they have the potential to win running away. and an established rotation that pretty much could map out a postseason staff tomorrow if it had to.

No matter what some might say about leaving nothing to chance and taking a proven arm, if you were ever going to paint a situation to break in a young starter, this might be it. If the Tigers couldn’t find that starter out of 5-6 in-house candidates, it would’ve been an indictment of a farm system built around young pitching.

If Drew Smyly makes it, he’ll be a very nice triumph for the Tigers system, especially the scouting department. He wasn’t the typical big, hard-throwing pitcher the Tigers usually draft with their early picks, and he wasn’t necessarily the kind of risk the Tigers have shown they’re willing to take in some years when they get past the first day. There was a risk, since the Tigers couldn’t be sure he was willing to leave after his breakout sophomore season at Arkansas, but he was better known for the pitches he throws than how hard he throws them.

That happened in the summer of 2010. Less than two years later, he’s in the big-league rotation. Starting with last spring at Lakeland, he pitched his way onto the fast track. When he got his shot at big league camp to give the Tigers brass a look at him, he kept it up.

“I wouldn’t say [I was] confident that I would be the guy,” Smyly said of his approach coming into camp, “but I was definitely confident that I could show them that I’m capable of being the guy. I mean, it’s up to them to pick who they want to be up there, but from the first day of spring training until now, I was just excited to get to show everybody what I had, because last year I didn’t really get to pitch, and they didn’t really get to see me much at either high-A and Double-A.”

When they told him he was heading north with the Tigers, he called it the best news he has ever been told, topping the day the Tigers drafted him. He made his case as a cool customer on the mound, as manager Jim Leyland put it, right down to the last start he had against the Cardinals in Jupiter.

“He was a little not-quite-so-cool,” Leyland described him in his reaction to the news. “He did handle it pretty mature, really, but he was excited.”

Did he benefit from some other guys struggling? Sure. Leyland’s comments Sunday morning made it sound like Andy Oliver definitely had a shot to win the job the way he was going until his control problems flashed again, and Jacob Turner’s shoulder tendinitis never really allowed him a chance to recover from his early spring struggles. But in Smyly, they have a pitcher who keeps showing since draft day that he can handle the next level he’s at. And in the end, he had more pitches, and more good pitches that he could spot, than anyone else in the field. It’s a good day for the Tigers scouting department.

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