Mechanics tweak has Tigers’ Smyly at top of his game

Drew Smyly has carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning of his last two starts.

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DETROIT — Drew Smyly has never looked this efficient and dominant at the same time.

The Detroit Tigers left-hander has carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning of his last two starts.

Can he do that for a third consecutive start?

"I hope so," said Smyly, whose next start is Thursday afternoon against the Chicago White Sox. "We’ll see."

Then he joked that "together" the beginning of his last two starts equal a no-hitter, and he’s correct on that point. He’s gone 4 1/3 and 4 2/3 innings with a no-hitter for exactly nine innings total.

Smyly posted a 2.13 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in those games, and had a career-best 17 strikeouts in consecutive games. His 11 strikeouts on Friday were his most in one game.

Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones credited a recent mechanics alteration, saying, "We’ve adjusted his hands to keep them lower before going into his delivery, and it’s generated more arm speed that way."

Smyly concurred.

"It’s been a pretty easy adjustment," he said. "Jonesey came to me in the bullpen with it."

Jones has a reputation for spotting the slightest flaw that can make the biggest difference. Correct pitching mechanics are essential, and one inch of arm angle can be critical.

"It does amaze me," Smyly, 25, said. "I don’t see it at all. But it’s a great tool to get you where you need to be."

How much has his recent success been a matter of the increased arm speed? And how much of it is about consistent command of his 91 mph average fastball, changeup, curve and cutter?

"It’s both," Smyly said. "Arm speed definitely helps with the sharpness of my off-speed pitches. But you still have to locate. You have both and you have the recipe for success."

Jones added, "Rhythm — that’s exactly what it is. He has a really good rhythm going.

"That’s pretty good, taking no-hitters that deep into games. Against the Angels, his cutter was really good. His curveball was good, too. Everything was working."

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said he’s watching how much he uses Smyly, who has never thrown more than 126 innings in a professional season and was used as a reliever in 63 games in 2013 to fill a team need.

Smyly (6-9, 3.77 ERA) is at 100 1/3 innings, but Ausmus said the organization has no "hard cap" on the innings Smyly will pitch. He will get about 11 more starts, but very likely will be in the bullpen should the Central Division-leading Tigers make the playoffs. That would work into keep him well under 200 innings total.

"He’s done very well for us," Ausmus said. "We’ve slotted him in the fifth spot, and he’s done a really nice job. Overall, he’s had good outings for us — especially lately."

One thing Smyly hasn’t adjusted lately is the frequency with which he throws pitches. According to Brooks Baseball, he’s consistently throwing his fastball (53 percent), curve (29 percent), cutter (14 percent) and changeup (4 percent) at the same approximate rates.

Has he ever felt better on the mound?

"It comes and goes," Smyly said. "This game gives you confidence and takes it away … There will be ups and downs, and this won’t be the last hot streak or cold streak I’ll have."

CASTELLANOS RETURNS; SUAREZ STAYS OUT

Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos — scratched from Tuesday night’s start after bruising his right index finger attempting to field a bad-hop grounder in batting practice — returned to the starting lineup and is batting seventh Wednesday night.

Detroit shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who left Tuesday night’s game with lower-back tightness after feeling a "pinch" on a throw, was held out of the starting lineup.

"Whether it’s today or tomorrow," Ausmus said of Suarez’s readiness, "I don’t think he even knows."

Switch-hitter Andrew Romine (.214, one homer, six RBI) will start at shortstop Wednesday.

FOX Sports Detroit will carry Wednesday night’s game between the Tigers and White Sox at 7 p.m., with Tigers Live at 6. Thursday’s 1 p.m. series finale between the Central Division rivals begins with the pregame show at noon on FOX Sports Detroit.