Cubs’ Drew Smyly struggles in first start back in rotation: ‘Give him a little bit of grace’

Smyly’s poor results and Marcus Stroman’s injury have left the Cubs without obvious answers in the rotation.

SHARE Cubs’ Drew Smyly struggles in first start back in rotation: ‘Give him a little bit of grace’
Cubs starting pitcher Drew Smyly throws to a Detroit Tigers batter during the first inning of Tuesday’s game.

Cubs starting pitcher Drew Smyly throws to a Detroit Tigers batter during the first inning of Tuesday’s game.

Jose Juarez/AP

DETROIT — Cubs starter Drew Smyly wiped his forehead and adjusted his hat after another disappointing outing. It was his first start back from a temporary stint in the bullpen, and time is running out for the lefty to turn around his season.

“I need to pitch better, obviously,” Smyly said after the Cubs’ 8-6 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday.

If Smyly, who surrendered seven runs to Detroit in 3⅔ innings, doesn’t get better results soon, the Cubs are going to have to decide what to do with that fifth rotation spot down the stretch. But they don’t seem to be giving up on Smyly just yet.

“Who takes his spot in the rotation, is the question,” Ross said when asked if it was time to consider a more permanent move to the bullpen for Smyly. “He’s in there because we’re just a little short-handed right now. It’s his first start back; let’s give him a little bit of grace. And I don’t know that we have anybody waiting in line that we feel like is some dominant force.”

Smyly’s command was off in the first inning, resulting in a curveball right down the middle that Andy Ibanez drove over the fence, a five-pitch walk to Spencer Torkelson and a wild pitch that put Torkelson in scoring position for Kerry Carpenter to drive him in with a single.

The next inning, the Tigers’ Parker Meadows and Zack Short jumped on first-pitch sinkers for a single and ground-rule double that bounced over the right-field fence to put runners on second and third. Zach McKinstry hit a sacrifice fly to give Detroit a 3-0 lead.

“They put a few runs up early, and then the fourth inning I just got tired,” Smyly said.

The fatigue was expected. When the Cubs moved Smyly to the bullpen for a couple weeks, they knew keeping his length was going to be a challenge. He made three relief appearances in that time, each scoreless and one inning.

Smyly was one of the Cubs’ most consistent starters in the first two months of the season, but at this point his rough stretch has lasted longer than his strong start.

When Smyly moved to the bullpen, the Cubs hoped they could take advantage of the change in routine and mentality to help get him back on track.

“He just wanted to see some zeros, throw some zeros up there,” catcher Yan Gomes told the Sun-times before the game. “So he took it very seriously going down there, worked on a lot of stuff in between. And I hope you get to see some good stuff today.”

It didn’t quite pan out that way.

“The team needs me,” Smyly said. “I need to pitch better. These games should be fun, and they’re meaningful. And I just have to play better.”

The Cubs need him now, especially with right-hander Marcus Stroman out indefinitely, recovering at home from a fracture in his rib cartilage. He won’t resume baseball activities until he’s symptom-free, at which point the Cubs will determine his ramp-up. So, they can’t count on him reclaiming his place in the rotation anytime soon.

Rookie right-hander Hayden Wesneski threw 2⅓ scoreless innings in relief of Smyly on Tuesday, and he has starting experience. But he hasn’t fully resolved his issues against lefties this season. Having him come out of the bullpen gives Ross more control over matchups.

The Cubs have been impressed with what prospect Jordan Wicks has been doing in Triple-A, but a promotion to the big leagues comes with a lot of unknowns.

There is no perfect solution. If Smyly could take advantage of the leeway provided by a short rotation and settle in his next start, that would solve a lot of problems for the Cubs.

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