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Smyly's role can be critical in rainy April

DETROIT -- The weather forecast the next couple days calls for a high chance of Drew Smyly.

It's actually a high chance of rain. But if rain happens in the middle of the game, there's a very good chance Smyly is going to be utilized for long relief. Even after Smyly pitched two-thirds of an inning Tuesday, manager Jim Leyland said Smyly will be available if need be on Wednesday.

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These are the times when Smyly's role becomes critical. If a starter gets roughed up early, there's a good chance the game is out of reach. An injury or an ejection to a starting pitcher can be a tougher situation, but it isn't that common.

Rain delays, especially in April, can put a premium on long relief. Tigers manager Jim Leyland will almost always bring his starter back if a rain delay lasts 45 minutes or less. If it lasts an hour or more, Leyland will usually go to his bullpen. In between, the decision usually comes down to the starting pitcher.

Smyly had two opportunities at long relief in the opening week. His first was an Opening Day struggle cut short in the middle of his second inning of work. His second was a four-inning save on Friday.

"I saw the first time, he probably pitched like a reliever," Leyland said. "The second game, he pitched like a starter."

Clearly, the Tigers would prefer the latter. Though he's a left-handed reliever, the presence of Phil Coke and Darin Downs means they don't need Smyly as a lefty specialist.

"When I come into an inning clear, I try to pitch like a starter," Smyly said.

If he's coming in with runners on base, Smyly said, he might change his pitch selection to try for a strikeout or a ground ball.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Detroit Tigers, Andy Dirks, Avisail Garcia, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Drew Smyly