If you are willing to be patient with Drew Smyly by saying he has made just four starts, you probably should also be worried about the fact the Braves gave him $11 million based on a similarly small sample size last year.
With Smyly being their most significant gamble of the offseason, the Braves have to hope the cards start looking a little better over the next few weeks. The veteran lefty allowed three home runs in a 13-5 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday night at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla.
“A few games don't define me,” Smyly said. “I know I can get these guys out. I’ve been doing it for quite a while. It’s just a matter of doing it consistently and going out there every five days to give your team a chance to win. Unfortunately, I haven’t done that.”
When the Braves gave Smyly a one-year, $11 million deal in November, they were looking for him to serve as a quality innings-eater and provide experience to a relatively young rotation. They didn’t view him as a frontline starter.
But they also weren’t anticipating he would surrender nine home runs and post an 8.05 ERA through his first four starts. That’s nine homers in 19 innings. The only Major Leaguer to surrender more this year is the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks, who has allowed 10 homers through 22 innings.
Smyly’s troubles on Friday night began when Bo Bichette hit a 420-foot, two-run homer in the third. Alejandro Kirk began his two-homer night with a 428-foot, two-run homer in the fourth and Randal Grichuk ended Smyly’s night by opening the bottom of the fifth with a 417-foot homer.
Braves manager Brian Snitker felt the windy Florida conditions that make this park play small during Spring Training may have influenced these ugly results.
“It’s playing just like it does in Spring Training, which is really, really short,” Snitker said. “But they had some balls that were hit really good, too. I can’t deny that. It’s just executing pitches and location. If you go back and look, he probably had too many balls in the middle of the plate.”
With Smyly surrendering more than 1,200 feet worth of home runs while recording just 12 outs, the Braves lost a second straight game and some of the momentum they’d generated while winning the first three games of this week’s Cubs series.
While Smyly’s salary was a gamble, his efforts from start to start shouldn’t be viewed this same way. Yet, he’s easily been the weakest link in a rotation that will consist of Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, Max Fried and Smyly once Fried returns from the injured list on Tuesday.
Once Mike Soroka possibly comes off the injured list in the second half of June, the Braves could have one of the Majors’ better rotations. At this point, it’s easy to question what they would do with Smyly.
For now, it’s just best for the Braves to focus on getting Smyly right so he can at least provide the depth that will be needed over this long season.
“There were spurts here today where I thought he was going to get it going,” Snitker said. “I think it's just a matter now of getting him out there regularly.”
Smyly made two starts to begin the season and then missed nearly two weeks dealing with a sore left forearm. So, as he has allowed three home runs in both starts he has made since being activated, he might be shaking off a little rust.
Looking back on his outings, Smyly believes a more consistent cutter could provide a significant difference. He’s surrendered just two homers against this pitch. But he hasn’t been able to rely on it to put hitters away.
“I think the cutter could be much more consistent,” Smyly said. “The results just aren’t there. It’s frustrating. I get it. I mean, I get it. It’s just not fun giving up some home runs and taking your team out of the game early.”
Naturally, many fans on social media are comparing the signing of Smyly to that of Cole Hamels, who collected approximately $6.66 million (prorated portion of his one-year, $18 million deal) to pitch 3 1/3 innings for the Braves last year.
The Braves unsuccessfully gambled on Hamels’ shoulder, which had been a problem near the end of the 2019 season. Their gamble on Smyly was despite the fact he totaled just 26 1/3 innings last year and just 20 1/3 of those innings were completed as a starter. He never threw more than five innings and reached that total just twice.
At the same time, Smyly consistently kept the ball in the park. The nine homers he’s allowed in 19 innings are seven more than he allowed in just seven more innings last year.
“It’s my 10th season in MLB, and it’s a tough game,” Smyly said. “You want to prove to everybody what you’re capable of doing. It’s not fun getting off to a bad start. But it’s a really long season. I’ve been in this situation before, and I know I can rewrite the script.”