Schedule, rainouts delay Smyly’s first start
DETROIT — Drew Smyly will be a starting pitcher again someday, but it hasn’t happened yet this season.
Brad Ausmus promises that Smyly will eventually get to pitch in the rotation spot that he earned with a strong season in the bullpen last year. He was originally scheduled to start Wednesday, but Tuesday’s postponement has moved that back once again.
"It has been hard to get any kind of rhythm going because we already had a lot of off-days built into the schedule, and now we’ve had two rainouts," Ausmus said before Wednesday’s game against Cleveland. "So Drew’s been in the bullpen, and he’s doing a great job out there. But we’re going to get him out there Friday against the Angels."
Smyly hasn’t started a regular-season game since Sept. 28, 2012, when he pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings against the Twins, and has never pitched longer than six innings in any of his 88 major-league appearances. Last season, he posted a 2.37 ERA in 63 relief outings, moving up from the long-man role to being one of Jim Leyland’s most-trusted bullpen arms in October.
This year, with the Tigers playing only 10 times in the first 16 days of the season — the fewest of any team in the majors — they haven’t needed five starters. Smyly has pitched six shutout innings in two relief appearances, allowing only two hits.
If he translates his bullpen form back to the rotation, the Tigers instantly jump back into the discussion for baseball’s best rotation. If he struggles, however, there aren’t many other candidates in the system ready to take on that role.
AVILA DROPS IN THE ORDER
Ausmus dropped Alex Avila to seventh in Wednesday’s batting order, moving Nick Castellanos up to the sixth spot. Avila is hitting .130 this season and still doesn’t have an extra-base hit or an RBI.
"Alex is doing a great job behind the plate, and that’s crucial to us in the long haul," Ausmus said. "But he’s obviously scuffling at the plate right now.
"He’s obviously a better hitter than this, and we know he’s going to get hot at some point. He’ll be a huge asset for us when we get him going."
Avila takes a lot of pitches — he leads the team with four walks despite his slow start — and Ausmus doesn’t see that as a bad thing.
"There are times when you want to be more aggressive," Ausmus said. "When you have runners on base, you want to swing the bat and give yourselves a chance to knock them in, but there are a lot of good hitters who take pitches. You have to find a balance."
The other lineup move was — back in an American League park — Rajai Davis dropped to ninth and Ian Kinsler led off. That allowed Miguel Cabrera to move back into the No. 3 spot.
"I like having Rajai hitting in front of Ian and Torii, and he will be after the first inning," Ausmus said. "I wanted to get Miggy back to third because I want him batting in the first inning of every game, and by having Rajai ninth, I can still do that.
"Rajai might lose one at-bat, but he’ll still be in front of our big guys after that."
AROUND THE HORN: Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon’s broadcasts on FOX Sports Detroit will feature the popular Phantom Cam replay system. The high-speed cameras record at 5,000 frames per second, allowing much clearer details in replays. … Ausmus was perfectly happy with Tuesday’s postponement, which came five hours before the scheduled first pitch. "There was snow on the ground, and we were looking at 29 degrees at the first pitch with 10-15 mph winds. I don’t know about anyone else, but my hands froze just putting gas in my car." … Wednesday’s weather wasn’t ideal for baseball either, with the first-pitch temperature around 40 degrees and a steady breeze blowing in from center field.