VIERA, Fla. -- Drew Smyly does not figure to make it easy on the Tigers when the club decides on its fifth starter later this week. Then again, some of the determining factors may well be outside his control.
The young lefty has been impressive this spring -- save for one forgettable outing against the Nationals, which he avenged Friday afternoon in Viera -- in competing to be Detroit's back-end starter. But Smyly is up against Rick Porcello, whose Grapefruit League ERA of 2.50 (five earned runs in 18 innings) outshines Smyly's (eight earned runs in 21 1/3 innings, a 3.38 mark).
"There's always -- before the season, during the season, after the season -- a lot of talk around the game, so you can't pay attention to that," Smyly said of chatter surrounding the competition and the rotation speculation. "You just focus on how you can do better. How I can make the team better, how I can make my pitches better. That's really all I'm focused on -- making sure I pitch well, so at the very least, I can make it a hard decision."
Most of the talk early on in 2013 has been about the trade value of Porcello, and whether the Tigers would deal him to help remedy another potential problem -- their lack of an established closer.
But president/general manager Dave Dombrowski refuted to the Detroit News this week an Internet report that said the Tigers had proposed two separate offers to the Padres for late-inning relievers. Should such a deal go down, that would open space for Smyly. But, as it stands now, the Tigers have little other organizational starting-pitching depth, and Smyly's bullpen experience -- he excelled in that role against the Yankees in last year's American League Championship Series -- could land him a spot in the bullpen.
"I believe that I'm a Major League starter," Smyly said. "I know I can go out there and get Major League lineups out. We've got a lot of good pitchers on this team, and that's not my decision to make. So hopefully there's a way I can help the team out. I know I can do it. I want to be on the team, so anything else is kind of out of my control."
Smyly's stuff was on display Friday at Space Coast Stadium, when he bounced back from a previous poor outing against the Nationals in a matchup against Stephen Strasburg and the defending National League East champs.
After surrendering five runs on seven hits in four innings on Sunday in Lakeland to bring his Grapefruit League ERA from 1.46 to 3.86, the southpaw scattered four hits and one run over five-plus innings while striking out five and not walking a batter. The damage came on a fifth-inning leadoff home run to Ian Desmond.
"He looked good," manager Jim Leyland said Friday. "He rolled that one breaking ball that Desmond hit out, but he threw good. Very well. That's a top-shelf lineup, and he was pretty impressive, to say the least."
Pitching coach Jeff Jones said facing a lineup like that can often hurt a pitcher in back-to-back outings, but it was Smyly who made the proper adjustments for Friday.
Smyly said he and Jones were working to keep him more compact in his delivery, to keep the ball over the plate but down in the zone.
"He stayed in his delivery the whole time," Jones said. "The last couple of times ... he got out of whack in the middle innings. Even though they got a couple hits today, he stayed in his delivery and made good pitches."