Drew Smyly taking advantage of stability with Cubs, showcasing consistency

Smyly held the Twins to two runs in six innings Friday.

SHARE Drew Smyly taking advantage of stability with Cubs, showcasing consistency

Cubs lefty Drew Smyly limited the Twins to four hits in six innings Friday.


MINNEAPOLIS — On a new team, Cubs left-hander Drew Smyly might not have been so bold about making adjustments during spring training.

‘‘And, honestly, some of those tweaks I might not have even known about,’’ Smyly told the Sun-Times. ‘‘The team might not have even told me, or they might not have known.’’

Back with the Cubs, Smyly is taking advantage of the kind of stability that has been missing in his journeyman career.

Smyly’s start Friday, in which he limited the Twins to two runs in six innings, extended his strong beginning to the season and put the Cubs in position to beat the Twins 6-2. Since his first bumpy start in Cincinnati, when he allowed six earned runs in 4‰ innings, he has posted a 2.04 ERA.

‘‘I preach it to younger guys: What I’ve tried to do my whole career is just be consistent,’’ Smyly said. ‘‘It’s way easier said than done. It’s such a hard, grueling, demanding league. Playing so many games, you’re going to have ups and downs; you’re going to have bad games. But I just want to be as consistent as I can.’’

Now that he has the stability of a multi-year contract with the Cubs and consecutive years working with their pitching coaches, does he think he can reach another level of performance?

‘‘I hope so,’’ he said.

A reunion between Smyly and the Cubs wasn’t guaranteed after last season.

He had spoken highly of Cubs, whom he also had been with in 2018 while he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery, and the team had reciprocated. But after Smyly declined his mutual 2023 contract option, as expected, almost two months passed before he inked a two-year, $19 million deal to return.

‘‘It’s been great,’’ Smyly said of working with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and his staff again. ‘‘I love Tommy. You’re not starting from square one; you just pick back up to where we were last year. They know me very well; I know them very well. So it’s just an open line of communication. They know what I need, what makes me tick.’’

Twice during spring training, the Cubs flagged slippage in Smyly’s throwing motion, comparing his arm position to the best version of himself last season. They had the precise data to identify the difference and the relationship to bring it to him.

‘‘One of the big things I love about the Cubs,’’ Smyly said, ‘‘is they’re not pushy on anything. But they’re so on top of it to make sure you’re not slipping down the wrong road.’’

The Cubs also had Smyly’s trust, which was necessary to make an adjustment that would disrupt his normal compete-mode focus in the last couple of weeks of the spring.

‘‘It’s the way he can simplify it,’’ Smyly said of Hottovy, ‘‘the way he can find a couple of little details. That’s not reinventing how I throw a baseball, but it’s little notes or little exercises that he can bring to me that just re-engage my mechanics.’’

Smyly has played for five teams in the last five seasons. The last team he spent multiple seasons with was the Rays (2014-16). Still, Smyly entered the game Friday with a career 4.06 ERA, even while battling injuries through the years.

‘‘It’s so refreshing to have a veteran guy who can go out there and be like, ‘This is who I am, this is what I’m going to do,’ ’’ Hottovy said. ‘‘And when you simplify things to that extent, you can see so much more. You can read hitters’ swings, you can read the reaction of how the game flow is going and things like that.’’

Smyly showed just that against the Twins. He stuck to an iteration of his usual script, leaning on his curveball and mixing in his sinker. He held the Twins to four hits.

It wasn’t flashy; it was consistent.

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