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Smyly 'over the hump' after lengthy absence

Lefty hasn't pitched in Majors since 2016
January 27, 2019

ARLINGTON -- Rangers left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly addressed an important question this weekend at FanFest.How are you?"I am good," Smyly said. "I feel healthy. I'm really excited to go into Spring Training fully healthy and ready to pitch. It is going to be a fun year."That's not the last time

ARLINGTON -- Rangers left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly addressed an important question this weekend at FanFest.
How are you?
"I am good," Smyly said. "I feel healthy. I'm really excited to go into Spring Training fully healthy and ready to pitch. It is going to be a fun year."
That's not the last time he will be asked that question. The same goes for Edinson Volquez and Shelby Miller, two other members of the Rangers' projected rotation. They, along with Smyly, are all coming back from Tommy John surgery and there is much unknown about what is ahead of them.
The Rangers' two other projected starters -- Mike Minor and Lance Lynn -- have both been able to recover nicely from major elbow surgery in recent years. The Rangers are counting on Smyly, Volquez and Miller to do the same as they try to stitch together a pitching staff that can support their young and potentially dynamic offensive lineup.
"All have clean bills of health individually," general manager Jon Daniels said. "If you look at it from a group standpoint, you got three guys who didn't pitch last year, so there is risk there. We are going to need to have some other guys behind them. We are going to have to be judicious with those guys, be smart and get ahead of it because it is going to be their first full year back."
Smyly has had the longest wait of the three. He hasn't pitched in a Major League game since Sept. 26, 2016, when he was with the Rays. The Rangers are his third organization since then, and his only game action was a one-inning Minor League outing for Class A South Bend in the Cubs organization at the end of last season.
"It hasn't been very fun," Smyly said. "It has been a long road, that's what Tommy John surgery is. A lot of pitchers go through it, there have been plenty before me and plenty after me. I'm hopeful it's behind me, I'm ready to run into the season and pick up right where I left off."
Organizations have always liked Smyly's talent. The Tigers selected him in the second round of the 2012 Draft out of the University of Arkansas, and the Rays identified him as their principal target in a three-way deal on July 31, 2014, that sent All-Star pitcher David Price to Detroit.
The Mariners traded three players to the Rays for Smyly on Jan. 11, 2017, but he never pitched for them. He underwent Tommy John surgery on July 6 of that year and became a free agent after the season.
The Cubs then signed Smyly to a two-year, $10 million deal. Their hope was to get Smyly back as a reliever at the end of 2018 and then move him back into the rotation this season. But Smyly was unable to make it back on the mound at the Major League level.
"Not very close," Smyly said when asked if he had a chance to make it back to the Majors in 2018. "I pitched in a Minor League game but time just ran out. The Cubs were in the middle of the pennant race and they were like, 'It's not worth it.' We decided to call it a year."
The Rangers acquired Smyly on Nov. 2 of last year, in a trade that involved a convergence of interests. The Cubs wanted to shed Smyly's $7 million salary for use elsewhere and the Rangers were hoping to get lucky with a pitcher on the rebound. It's a challenging way to construct a rotation, but Texas had the same idea when it signed Volquez and Miller while coming off the same surgery.
"It's going to be fun this year, because as you know, a lot of our rotation is in the same boat," Smyly said. "We are all going through it together and we're all over the hump and cleared. Time will tell, but if we can all stay healthy and talk about it together, it can be a good year for us."
There is one caveat. Wisdom suggests a pitcher needs one full year before he is back to full strength. That's where Smyly, Volquez and Miller are this season. But Lynn, when he was with the Cardinals, missed all of 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The following season, he made 33 starts for St. Louis and was 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.
The Rangers will take that from Smyly, Volquez and Miller right now.
Smyly said he had his normal stuff on the mound when he was going through his rehabilitation program last summer and pitching batting practice to the Cubs hitters. The biggest issue was stamina and endurance, and he is hoping a full and normal offseason will address that.
"I don't want to think down the road," Smyly said. "I'm just excited for Spring Training and to be healthy and pitching in games. I haven't pitched in two years, so my concern is to be healthy and available to the team. I'm not worried about how many innings I throw or how many starts I make. Yeah, I want to make all my starts, but I'm also just excited to be healthy and pitching.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.