Drew Smyly is maintaining his humor through the disappointment of being moved back to the Chicago Cubs bullpen.
The 24-year-old left-hander made three relief appearances before Marcus Stroman’s injury prompted the Cubs to return Smyly to the rotation. They saw enough in one start, a disastrous outing Tuesday in Detroit, to move Smyly back to the pen and look at other options for the fifth starter spot.
“It’s like I never left, I guess,” Smyly said Friday at PNC Park. “I mean, I get it. I haven’t been doing my job as a starter, so there’s nothing I can say or any type of way I can feel about it. I wish I was doing better. I wish I had things figured out, where to go to correct it.”
Manager David Ross declined to announce pregame Friday who will take Smyly’s start, which is listed as TBD for Sunday’s series finale. With three open spots on the 40-man roster, the Cubs have flexibility to add someone from Triple-A Iowa. Left-hander Jordan Wicks, their 2021 first-round pick, is well-positioned to be called up for his big-league debut.
Smyly felt frustrated by Tuesday’s performance and sad he let the team down when the Tigers tagged him for seven runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings. He didn’t execute or attack the way he needed to, a common problem in his struggles the last two months spanning nine outings (9.78 ERA).
“But I think they see me and I know I see myself as someone that could be very valuable in the bullpen,” Smyly said. “If I can turn it around and have a lot of success in different roles.
“I don’t really feel like it’s a matter of my decline or my pitches not being good enough. If anything, I think my pitches are better than they were early in the year when I was having a lot of success in terms of metrics and that type of thing, but you’re seeing a lack of execution as a starter and obviously the consistency.”
The Cubs could deploy in a one- to three-inning appearances or find pockets of lefties for him to face. Smyly gives the Cubs a lefty in the bullpen, though he has posted reverse splits this season and given up too much slug in matchups against left-handed hitters. He pitched well in his three relief outings between Aug. 13-18, including tossing a scoreless ninth in the Cubs’ memorable win Aug. 16 versus the White Sox when Christopher Morel delivered a three-run walk-off homer.
He tossed a scoreless eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night in a 2-1 Cubs loss.
In a relief role, Smyly can focus on utilizing his best stuff. In hindsight, he believes he got too caught up in scouting reports and having to pitch certain hitters a certain way. Smyly acknowledged the value of understanding how hitters might try to attack and the importance of pre-start homework, but “when you get too caught up in that you start to lose yourself, you forget to stop thinking about pitching and how to miss this barrel.”
When he comes out of the bullpen, Smyly wants to revert to a “here’s my best shot” mentality, which he needed as a starter and lost track of that philosophy over the course of the season.
“I feel like the story of Drew’s year has been when he’s going well, those mistakes turn into outs or popups or foul balls, and when they’re not and you’re finding yourself behind in the count, you don’t have quite that same confidence you’re rolling with,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “They turn into bigger plays, so the stuff we’re seeing from a pitch-shape perspective, velocity, they’re all trending in the right direction. He is doing a lot of good things but getting back to attacking the strike zone, being aggressive changes a lot of stuff.”
In a perfect world, Smyly would be thriving in the rotation and leading the Cubs to the postseason. However, this late-season role change isn’t unfamiliar for Smyly. When he won a World Series title with the Atlanta Braves in 2021, Smyly pitched out of the bullpen in September after he made 23 starts. He recorded a 1.64 ERA with three walks and eight strikeouts in 11 innings over six outings.
His experience in Atlanta is a reminder for Smyly that he knows he can thrive as a reliever on a winning team. He takes pride in his versatility. The Cubs told him they might use him in both roles before he joined the organization on a one-year deal in 2022. Smyly ended up staying in the rotation the full season, finishing with 22 starts and a 3.47 ERA. He returned on a two-year, $19 million deal and triggered an opt-out after the season by pitching more than 100 innings.
“I’m hoping to turn it around in that role and help the team try to finish strong and compete for a playoff spot,” Smyly said. “You can’t have an ego. … If you don’t do your job, someone’s going to come do it for you. That’s how it’s been from Day 1, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a rookie or you have 10 years in the league, like someone’s waiting to take your job. You always know that.
“This is one of the reasons I chose to come back here because I thought the Cubs were really close to winning, and we are. We’re right here on the final stretch, so I’m happy to fill any type of role for them. I just want to help the team win and try to get us to that next step.”
Source: Berkshire mont