Rangers’ Smyly takes step to return with scoreless outing

MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Texas Rangers left-hander Drew Smyly has seen enough of the spring training practice fields for a while. That can happen when a pitcher misses two major league seasons following reconstructive elbow surgery.

“They asked me if I wanted to pitch on the back fields and I said no,” Smyly said Tuesday after throwing two scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics. “In my situation, with not having much game experience in quite some time, I want to be in the stadium, in the atmosphere, and I need that. I welcome that right now.”

In only his second outing since having Tommy John surgery nearly two years ago, the 29-year-old walked one and struck out three — including Stephen Piscotty and Ramon Laureano, who took third strikes.

“Smyly threw the ball really well,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “The 3-2 curveball to Laureano, if he can do that he’s going to be really effective.”

Woodward said Smyly would likely go three or four innings in his next outing, which the manager called “a normal progression.” That could come Sunday against the San Francisco Giants.

The pitcher was pleased with his first multiple-inning outing in a while.

“Another good day,” Smyly said. “Any time you get to take the mound and compete it’s a fun day.

“I think mechanically I was a little bit off, but I was able to work through it. I think the second inning was a lot better than the first, a lot of encouraging signs.”

Smyly, who pitched a 1-2-3 inning last week against the Angels, was behind in the count on the first three batters but retired two of them. He threw more strikes in the second inning, when he retired the side in order.

Smyly, who is 31-27 with a 3.74 ERA in five major league seasons, last pitched in 2016 for Tampa Bay. The surgery was in June 2017, and Smyly signed with the Chicago Cubs a year ago. There wasn’t quite enough time for a return last season, and the Cubs traded him to Texas late last year.

“It’s a very encouraging step to pitch, go sit down and go back out and pitch and feel better the second inning,” he said. “That shows me that my arm is feeling much better and recovering faster than last season. I’m just continuing to try to build off that, keep upping my innings and pitch count and go from there.”