In a season of so much weirdness and confusion, of COVID and wildfire scares, of postponed games and rushed doubleheaders, a lot of pitching injuries and a Giants road game at Oracle Park, Drew Smyly sounded downright joyful.
He had every reason to be tired, having played catch with Tyler Anderson at about 12:30 a.m. in the early hours of Wednesday. He had every reason to not be sharp, as he hadn’t thrown Monday, which was an off-day, or Tuesday until that late toss because he and the rest of his teammates were stuck in a Seattle hotel, not able to leave because of the air conditions that pushed this two-game series to Oracle Park. They flew in and got their gloves, eager to get some work in to stay sharp.
Which, on Wednesday night, Smyly was. He was as electric as he has been since … his rookie year, he decided after a pause.
That’s all the way back in 2012. He had Tommy John in 2017 before an up-and-down season last year, in which he didn’t quite bounce back, his stuff beginning to return but his mind still in fear of a repeat injury.
He entered this season with a clear mind. He now has filthy stuff he’s never had before.
“I feel really strong right now. I don’t really ever remember throwing 95, 96 [mph],” Smyly said over Zoom after striking out eight more in 3 2/3 innings in the Giants’ 9-3 victory over the Mariners at Oracle Park. “I feel excited to pitch, I feel healthy. And it’s a fun time for me right now, just for my body and mind just to be fully healthy and helping this team try to win.”
In that 2012 rookie season with the Tigers, Smyly’s average fastball was 91.6 mph, which was a tick better than any of his seasons until 2020. Through 78 pitches against Seattle, his average fastball was 94.4 mph and maxed out at 95.7 mph, remarkably improved for a second straight outing off the injured list.
He said he thought he was turning a corner last year when he arrived on Gabe Kapler’s Phillies after having bombed out with Texas. And his stuff had improved as the season got longer and brought him further away from his surgery, but he didn’t have this velocity in his arsenal.
Or this curveball. As encouraging as his fastball has been, his breaking ball has been better, inducing 11 swings and misses and eight called strikes among 33 curveballs thrown.
“They’re not really hitting the curveball right now,” Smyly said, accurately. “I gave up a couple hits on it, but I’m getting a lot of swings and misses on it. … My velo’s definitely up, and my arm just seems to be moving really well right now, which is exciting.”
In two outings after dealing with a strained finger, the 31-year-old has struck out 16 in 7 2/3 innings. Wednesday’s final statline — he technically allowed three runs — can be blamed on Caleb Baragar’s three walks and no outs recorded.
The next step will be for him to build up for a potential playoff start, as he has quickly emerged next to Kevin Gausman and Johnny Cueto as one of the Giants’ top options.
“I thought he had a ton of life on his fastball, dropped his curveball in for strikes early, and then started to get a lot of swings and misses with it,” Kapler said after his Giants ended their three-game skid. “… Just a really nice performance from Drew.”
Smyly had excuses if his stuff was off. But he also had stuff he’s never had before.
Gausman “looked great, felt great” playing catch Wednesday afternoon, Kapler said. Assuming he feels good Thursday, he should start this weekend in Oakland.