Cubs: Drew Smyly impresses in groundball-heavy debut

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Four games into the season and the Chicago Cubs rotation has held firm. Last weekend saw the team trot out Kyle Hendricks, Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman for 5+ innings each of shutdown baseball and on Tuesday, Drew Smyly continued the trend in his first start in a Cubs uniform against Jose Quintana. It took him four years since they first brought him onboard, but he finally made it and he was dominant.

Now, the Pirates aren’t a squad of world-beaters. It wouldn’t be ridiculous to say they have only two really good hitters on their squad (Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds), but Smyly’s performance showed a lot of promise nonetheless. Across his five scoreless innings, he managed to get a whopping 11 groundouts from the 17 batters that made contact off of him. More encouraging is that only two of those batters managed exit velocities greater than 95 MPH.

His curveball was easily his best weapon against Pittsburgh. Six of the eight whiffs he got came off of that pitch and it made up the vast majority of the pitches he threw to the Pirates. It continues the trend of the Cubs tweaking their pitchers’ arsenals so they focus more on throwing their best pitches. Last year in Atlanta, his curveball had a significantly lower hard hit percentage than his fastball, the other pitch he threw most often.

Smyly started to show some wear in the fifth, giving up a double to old friend Jake Marisnick and he started to miss the zone a bit, but it was still minimal trouble for the lefty. He nearly had to deal with two baserunners in the third as well, but Nico Hoerner saved him with a mind-boggling jump throw that Smyly considered the turning point in his outing. Outside of that, he kept it pretty drama-free while he was on the mound.

Drew Smyly’s performance bodes well for the future of the Cubs pitching staff

This was kind of an important start that echoes why the Cubs likely wanted Smyly in the rotation in the first place. He’s still capable of eating innings and finding ways to get outs. As he continues to lean on that curveball more, he’ll have the capability to survive and give the team exactly what they want out of him, whether it’s out of the bullpen or in the rotation.

Next. Justin Steele had everything working against Milwaukee. dark

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Again, Pittsburgh isn’t the toughest resistance, but it is reassuring to see what Smyly can be at his absolute best. He can really rack up the ground balls, limit hard contact, and give a respectable five innings when you need him to. At the very least, he’s inspired confidence in his next appearance on the mound.