PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- On the heels of Wednesday's Jake Odorizzi gem against the Orioles that powered the Rays to their first victory of the season, Drew Smyly provided further reason for optimism Thursday night.
Pitching in a live game for the first time since defeating Baltimore on Sept. 6, Smyly tossed two perfect innings for the Class A Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs in their Florida State League season opener against the Fort Myers Miracle.
Smyly, who was shut down in early March after being diagnosed with left shoulder tendinitis, threw 15 of his 23 pitches for strikes, with none leaving the infield. The 25-year-old lefty recorded four groundouts, a popout to first and a swinging strikeout on a 90-mph four-seam fastball against the fifth batter he faced.
"It was exciting to pitch, to compete, to play in a real game with fans out there. It was a great first step," said Smyly, who experienced no shoulder discomfort throughout his performance.
"It felt great. Better than I expected, so I was very encouraged with how today went. I threw a lot of strikes and my arm felt the best that it has felt, so it was a real good day."
Smyly was limited to a two-inning start, but the ease with which he breezed through Fort Myers' lineup left him about 12 pitches short on his target count.
"I wanted to get to 30-35 pitches, so I went down to the bullpen after my two innings just to finish up," Smyly said.
"I played it as if it were the third inning."
Smyly's four-seam fastball, which has consistently registered 91 mph throughout his Major League career, sat in the 88-89 range in the first inning before topping out at 91 on the second-to-last pitch of his outing.
"In the first inning, I might have been a little more reserved, just making sure everything was good, throwing strikes," Smyly said. "Once I got the quick three outs, in the second inning, I really wanted to take it to another level and reach back to get that in-game momentum."
Smyly returned to Tampa, Fla., after the game, and he will formulate a plan for the next five days with head trainer Ron Porterfield. While eligible to come off the disabled list on Saturday, he sees at least two more rehab starts in the immediate future to help him reach the 75-pitch plateau that manager Kevin Cash has set as a prerequisite for returning to the Rays' starting rotation.
"After my next start, I should know a lot more," Smyly said. "But right now, I'm just looking to see how the next five days go."
While keeping an eye on the big picture.
"It's no fun watching from the dugout every night," Smyly said. "You want to be out there helping your team as soon as possible, but the season is really long. We've played three games of 162, so my being healthy and being fine the next five months is the biggest thing."