Just a few days after struggling in his only Triple-A start, the 22-year-old looked far from ready for the big leagues when Tampa Bay immediately loaded the bases on two walks and a single.
“It's been an exciting week, but I was struggling,” Drew Smyly said after Detroit's 7-2 win Thursday. “I couldn't get into a groove, but once I got the bases loaded, I told myself that I had to settle down and get out of it.”
Smyly did just that, getting Jeff Keppinger to pop out, and then striking out Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguezto escape the inning.
“We had the game right there for the taking in the first inning, and we chose not to take it,” Raysmanager Joe Maddon said. “The kid was obviously nervous, so I felt good with Kepp up there.
“But he gets the pop-up and then two punch-outs, and we get nothing, Maddon said. “It's tough to not get anything out of the inning, because the kid looked comfortable after that.”
Smyly ended up allowing one run on four hits in four-plus innings. He walked three and struck out four.
“I had an awesome time out there,” he said. “Obviously, only going four innings isn't good. You want to go deep into the game, but I threw too many pitches. With everything going on, though, I feel pretty good about it.”
Brennan Boesch provided more than enough offense for the Tigers, driving in four runs on his 27th birthday as the Tigers improved to 5-1.
“Today was a lot of fun,” Boesch said. “It's my birthday, and we're going to have a fun flight to Chicago.”
Collin Balester (1-0) allowed one run in two innings of relief. Despite having the American League's best record, the Tigers do not have a win from their starting rotation. Against the Rays, five Tigers relievers combined to allow one run on three hits in five innings.
“They did an excellent job out there,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “When you have a young starter out there, you know you are probably going to be into your bullpen. You might as well just accept that.”
The Tigers trailed 1-0 until scoring three runs off Jeff Niemann (0-1) in the fifth. Alex Avila walked and score on Andy Dirks' one-out triple. Ryan Raburn struck out, but Austin Jackson walked and stole second before Boesch's two-run single.
The Rays got a run back on Evan Longoria's RBI single in the seventh, but Keppinger lined into a double play and Phil Coke retired Ben Zobrist to end the inning.
“That's just one of those plays,” Maddon said. “We had plenty of chances to get runs today, but we didn't take them. Detroit was relentless today, and we weren't.”
Boesch hit another two-run single, this one off Jake McGee, in the bottom of the inning. Avila hit an RBI triple in the eighth, then scored Detroit's seventh run on a wild pitch.
Carlos Pena opened the scoring with a homer in the third. Smyly hit Pena with a pitch to lead off the fifth and was taken out for Balester.
Notes: Jeremy Hellickson, who was taken to a hospital after being hit in the head during batting practice Wednesday, passed a battery of tests and is expected to make his scheduled start on Saturday in Boston. ... The Tigers are starting the season with nine straight day games, the longest streak by an American League team since the White Sox in 2004. ... Rays catcher Jose Lobato left the game with shoulder soreness, but Maddon didn't think it was a serious.