Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers game preview


It’s been nearly two years since the Detroit Tigers shipped Drew Smyly to the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team, five-player deal. In that period, he’s spent plenty of time on the disabled list, made his return to Detroit, and put together some altogether strong numbers.

Considering their rotation after Jordan Zimmermann, the Tigers might now think Smyly could be an integral part of the staff. Rather, they’ll be facing him Saturday as the Rays try to take the first two of a three-game series.

After Friday’s 7-5 loss, the Tigers have a 4.86 ERA from their rotation. Zimmermann is 6-2 with a 2.45 ERA, but everyone else who’s started for them has struggled.

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Smyly (2-4, 3.44 ERA), meanwhile, has gone 10-7 with a 2.80 ERA in 27 starts since landing in Tampa Bay at the 2014 trade deadline. He only made 12 starts last season because of shoulder problems, but he’s remained healthy since coming off the DL on Aug. 16.

More recently, the left-hander limited Toronto to a run and four hits in five innings of Monday’s 13-2 win but walked four. Still, it was an acceptable recovery from his worst start of the season six days before as he gave up six runs and 10 hits in five innings of a 6-4 loss in Seattle.

He walked five once back in 2014, but that was his only time over three before this.

"Just lost it," Smyly told MLB’s official website. "It’s just one of those things. It doesn’t happen much. I take pride in throwing a lot of strikes and not walking guys. I don’t know if I’ve ever walked four people in a game in my whole career. But I was just a little out of whack."

He’s faced his old club once, which didn’t go so well. Smyly gave up four runs and seven hits with two home runs in five innings of a 5-4 loss in Detroit on Sept. 7, though he escaped without a decision.

Ian Kinsler (4 for 10) and James McCann (2 for 2) have homered off him, but Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias are all 0 for 3.

The Tigers counter with Michael Fulmer, whose first four starts have all come on the road. He’s hoping a shift to Comerica Park does the trick. Fulmer (2-1, 6.52) gave up five runs – four earned – and five hits with three walks in 4 1/3 innings of Sunday’s 6-5 come-from-behind win in Baltimore. He’s given up four homers in his last three starts.

The Tigers have at least matched that with some support, scoring 16 runs in his 19 1/3 innings on the mound.

After Friday, Tampa Bay (20-19) has won four straight and five of six. The Rays have scored at least six times in each of those games while averaging 8.3 runs and batting .299. That comes after scoring 3.5 and hitting .222 in their first 33 games.

Steve Pearce is 5 for 10 in the last three, Evan Longoria is batting .353 over an eight-game hitting streak and, most surprising of all, Logan Morrison is 7 of 12 in his last four games after going 10 for 84 in his first 28.

The Tigers (19-22) saw their four-game winning streak come to an end, but they have at least 10 hits in all five of those games. Cabrera is 11 for 24 in his last six games.