Smyly, Oliver and Below were battling for the fifth spot in the rotation until Oliver’s last two starts bumped him from the competition. Barring a trade, the Tigers will select from a pitchers with no experience above Double-A, and one with just 29 innings of big league time.
Smyly has held up extremely well under the pressure of competition. His ERA (2.84) is the best among the candidates. Below’s ERA meanwhile jumped to 5.17 after his outing today against the Orioles. Can Smyly actually win the competition? It’s starting to look like it.
If the Tigers had their preference, they probably would have hoped the Oliver or Jacob Turner would have grabbed the spot. Turner’s chances disappeared when he missed time with tendonitis. After a good start, Oliver’s control, or lack thereof, bought him a ticket back to minor league camp. While Below has more big league experience than Smyly, he has not pitched as well this spring.
Smyly needs to start every fifth day, whether it’s in the major leagues or Toledo, so a spot in the big league bullpen seems very unlikely. The Tigers have to weigh the dangers of rushing Smyly against giving him a shot in a rotation that has enough veteran presence to minimize the pressure.
All indications are that he should be able to handle the jump. Smyly is described by pitching coach Jeff Jones as having a very confident, even temper. Scouts feel he is ready for the job.
As Jim Leyland says, if he selects Smyly, it would be a risk. The skipper has not been afraid to take a talented inexperienced player north in the past. He might have to do it again this year.
With less than a week until opening day, we’ll find out soon enough.