PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe the Phillies really found something in Drew Smyly.
If they have, it will be a boon to a rotation that has struggled since the beginning of the season and has been searching for help for weeks. Smyly pitched seven scoreless innings in Tuesday night’s 4-2 victory over the Giants at Citizens Bank Park. There has been plenty of talk about the Phillies’ need to find more starting pitching, even after they signed Smyly on July 21 and acquired left-hander Jason Vargas from the Mets on Monday.
“They can acquire all the good pitching they want, you know?” Smyly said. “We’re trying to win a championship. The more, the merrier.”
Smyly is Philadelphia's first starter other than Aaron Nola to pitch seven or more innings in a game since Zach Eflin pitched eight innings in a victory over Arizona on June 12.
“I feel like a whole new pitcher out there,” Smyly said. “I said that before I signed here, and I continue to say that. I wasn't good in Texas. I wasn't pitching well. But that's history, and I feel like I've made some changes and figured some things out mechanically and in-game. And now I'm just trying to get on a roll and keep the hitters off balance and go with it.”
Smyly missed the entire 2017-18 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Cubs traded him to the Rangers in November. Texas released him in June after he posted an 8.42 ERA in 13 appearances (nine starts). He signed a Minor League contract with the Brewers, but they released him following three starts with Triple-A San Antonio.
Smyly signed with the Phillies because they promised he could join the rotation immediately. They told him that they found something in his pitch usage that could help him. It turns out the Brewers had found the same thing: They both thought he should throw his cutter more.
Smyly is throwing his four-seam fastball much less with the Phillies (37.2 percent of pitches thrown) than he had with the Rangers (52.7 percent). He is throwing his curveball more (32.6 percent compared to 27.0 percent) and his cutter much more (29.6 percent to 10.8 percent).
“It's moving better,” Smyly said. “I was able to go down to the Minor Leagues and work on the movement, and it's paying off. Just pitch usage, just sequencing and being able to tunnel certain pitches off each other. Like I said after my first start, I think I was just a little too predictable in Texas, and I wasn't throwing strikes is the main thing. I was getting behind a lot of guys and not limiting damage. Now, I feel like I’m able to get ahead, I'm able to keep the hitters guessing and it's making all my pitchers better.”
Smyly allowed just four hits and one walk on Tuesday. He struck out five. He generated a lot of weak contact.
“He had good life on the fastball,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He had a good curveball [and] cutter going. He had a good mix going."
Rhys Hoskins’ two-run home run in the fifth inning gave the Phils a 4-0 lead. They needed the insurance runs as Nick Pivetta allowed solo homers to pinch-hitters Brandon Belt and Stephen Vogt in the eighth.
The victory moved the Phillies within a half-game of the first NL Wild Card. It makes Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline a little more interesting. The front office has said it planned to only make marginal upgrades (i.e. low-cost moves) before then. They have followed through with that plan to this point -- bringing aboard Smyly, Vargas, right-hander Mike Morin, right-hander Blake Parker and even outfielder Jay Bruce, who cost Philadelphia a marginal prospect.
“I haven't thought about it one time,” Phils manager Gabe Kapler said about the Deadline. “It's not something that's on my mind.”
Really? It hasn’t crossed the manager’s mind, even once?
“There are things I have no control over,” Kapler said. “That's one of them. So I don't ever sweat the things that I can't control, because there's nothing I can do about them. That's why.”
The players in the Phillies’ clubhouse are thinking about it. They believe they can win, even if they have not consistently shown that since late May.
“We think we have a lot of talent in here,” Hoskins said. “We haven’t played to our ability yet, but the talent is still there. If we get help, we get help. If we don’t get help, we’re still pretty confident that … we feel pretty poised to go on a run here. It just feels a little bit different after these couple wins. It just seems like things are starting to click a little bit. Guys are starting to find their roles. Just a little bit different feeling.”
A quality start can do that.