Pitch clock surprises Cubs’ Drew Smyly: ‘I didn’t think it was going to be an issue’

Smyly worked the fastest of any Cubs starter last year, but he felt sped up in the Cubs’ 6-3 loss to the Brewers on Tuesday.

SHARE Pitch clock surprises Cubs’ Drew Smyly: ‘I didn’t think it was going to be an issue’
Cubs starter Drew Smyly throws before the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.

“I didn’t think it was going to be an issue, especially for me,” Cubs starter Drew Smyly said of the pitch clock. “I thought of myself as someone who works quick, and you just get the sign and you go. But it was way more prevalent in my head than I was used to.”

Morry Gash/AP

MARYVALE, Ariz. — Cubs left-hander Drew Smyly shook off a couple of pitches before he got the one he wanted. Then he glanced at the pitch clock. It already had counted down to one second. Smyly’s head dropped and shoulders slumped.

Automatic ball. He started the at-bat down 1-0 to Brewers hitter Tyler Naquin.

“I didn’t think it was going to be an issue, especially for me,” Smyly said. “I thought of myself as someone who works quick, and you just get the sign and you go. But it was way more prevalent in my head than I was used to.”

Smyly worked the fastest of any Cubs starter last year, averaging well below the 15 seconds now allowed between pitches with the bases empty (9.5 seconds) and 20 allowed with runners on (14.3), according to Statcast. But he felt sped up in the Cubs’ 6-3 loss to the Brewers on Tuesday, his first start with the pitch clock.

“Honestly, I think I threw four or five pitches where I just kind of picked my leg up and threw it, [and] I don’t even know if he knew what pitch I was throwing because I looked over, and the time was up.”

His discomfort showed up in the form of a home run and three doubles, one of which Naquin hit in the at-bat that started with an automatic ball.

“It’s just an adjustment,” Smyly said. “I could have done a much better job of stepping off, using my disengagements.”

It’s not just Smyly. Catcher Yan Gomes said after his first game of the spring that he “really enjoyed” the rhythm, but he also flagged confusion between innings and batters. On Monday, prospect Brennen Davis was caught in a surprise double violation to begin an inning. Shortstop Dansby Swanson called 15 seconds “pretty freaking quick” and suggested 18 seconds with the bases empty.

Smyly expects part of the issue will be rectified as he and catcher Tucker Barnhart get to know each other better. The Cubs signed Barnhart, a two-time Gold Glover, in December, and the pitching staff already has issued glowing reviews.

“He’s very committed,” Smyly said. “He comes up to every pitcher and wants to talk about what you throw, how you want to set guys up. Having him and Yan together is going to be incredible this season.”

For even the most seasoned catchers, spring training is the venue to get to know how pitchers like to attack different hitters. Teams don’t have detailed game plans in the spring like they do in the regular season because each outing is geared toward getting the pitcher ready for games that matter. So there will naturally be more back-and-forth on pitch-calling.

This year, pitchers will have the ability to call their own pitches through PitchCom, which in theory could be used to shorten the process when a pitcher shakes. But Smyly isn’t a fan of that idea.

“I want to know what [my catcher] is thinking,” Smyly said. “I feel like that’d almost be more of a distraction.”

He had another solution: setting a default pitch, so at least if time runs out, the catcher knows what’s coming.

“Everyone’s happy about how fast the games are; that’s for sure,” Smyly said. “I think by the time April rolls around, everyone will be a little bit more adjusted to it and on a better page. And maybe it won’t be as big of a thing that you notice.”

The Cubs’ longest game this spring lasted 3 hours, 6 minutes. Their loss to the Brewers on Tuesday clocked in at 2 hours, 11 minutes.

Brewers 6, Cubs 3

• Cubs No. 3 prospect Kevin Alcantara made his first appearance of spring training, starting in left field. He went 2-for-3.

• Outfielder Nelson Velazquez was the only other Cub to log multiple hits Tuesday, going 2-for-2 with a home run. Those hits were his first of the spring as he tries to make an impression before heading out to join Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

• Pitching prospect Ben Brown gave up a monster home run to Brewers cleanup hitter Rowdy Tellez, but that didn’t seem to faze him. It was the only hit Brown allowed in two innings.

Cody Bellinger has been out of the lineup for three days. Manager David Ross said the outfielder has been feeling “a little under the weather.”

On deck: Mariners at Cubs, 2:05 p.m. Wednesday, Mesa, Marquee, Robbie Ray vs. Hayden Wesneski.

The Latest
‘‘I don’t like the way the play was called,’’ Grifol said before the Sox’ 6-4 loss Friday to the Orioles.
“And that’s on getting a win in a packed arena, not just cause of one player on our charter flight,” Reese shared in a since-deleted post on X, formerly Twitter.
Notes: Lefty Drew Smyly likely will be activated this weekend in St. Louis.
Imanaga originally was scheduled to pitch Friday, but when the game was postponed, the Cubs pushed his start to the next series in Milwaukee.
While revenue sore spots were a focal point of many meetings among top Democrats, the governor’s office and stakeholders, it appears the governor is poised to get the revenue he had sought in his own budget proposal, with some concessions and some additions.