PORT CHARLOTTE -- Last year Drew Smyly was on course to show he just wasn't a throw-in when the Tampa Bay Rays needed to dump the salary of all star pitcher David Price.
After his arrival from Detroit in July of 2014, Smyly compiled a 1.70 ERA over 47.2 innings with 44 strikeouts. It trumped the 3.93 ERA he put together in the first part of 2014 with the Tigers, and his success had Price fading into the rearview mirror in the region.
There was a growing belief that Smyly was going to be another example of how the Rays could turn a good
pitcher into a great one.
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However, he missed a good part of the 2015 season because of a labrum tear in his left shoulder.
But the left-hander showed he can be very effective when healthy. Since his arrival in Tampa, the 26 year-old has compiled a 2.52 ERA in 19 starts.
He is back on the rehab trail this spring and again looking like he can be a special pitcher when his health holds up. In 3.1 innings during Thursday's 5-1 victory against Pittsburgh, Smyly allowed two hits, struck out three and did not walk a batter. He threw 51 pitches, including 35 strikes.
"I feel great. I am looking forward to a healthy 2016 and am putting last year behind me. I am very excited," Smyly said. " Every player goes through injuries. They are part of the game."
Smyly looked sharp in his second appearance of the spring. In his first start against Baltimore, he tossed two perfect innings throwing 30 pitches (18 strikes) and struck the side in one inning: Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters.
On Thursday, Smyly gave up his first hit of the spring when Matt Joyce singled in the third. The other hit was a single by Jordy Mercer in the fourth.
Smyly, wants to remove any doubt about him being the No. 2 guy in the Rays rotation and one of his biggest fans is Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash.
"We are thrilled to where he is at right now. It's exciting to envision having him healthy and anchoring a big part of our staff," Cash said.
Last season Smyly was limited to 12 starts and spent 105 days on the disabled list. After returning from his second stint on the DL he made nine starts and went 5-1 with a 3.24 ERA in 50 innings. He went 5-0 in his last eight starts and compiled a 2.54 ERA, showing the same effectiveness he displayed when he joined the Rays in 2014.
So far this spring, Smyly has picked up where he left off, showing command of his pitches and consistency with no signs of his old injury. He has put together four three-and-out innings this spring.
"Hitters have a tough time squaring the ball up (against Smyly)," Cash said. "He gets a lot of swings and misses, but even the balls that are put in play, you can tell he's got that little extra life on every pitch he throws. It just kind of stays off the barrel."
Smyly feels comfortable with his pitching repertoire and is just concentrating on building up his stamina.
"My plan for the spring is building up my pitch count every five days. I am not worried about windup or working on pitches. I am just getting ready for April," Smyly said.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.