Tuesday’s game was most notable for the balls that flew over the wall, but neither would have mattered had Cubs starter Drew Smyly not kept so many on the ground. The lefty got a career-high 11 groundball outs as he continually busted Pirates batters with breaking stuff.
‘‘I think it was just the cutters and curveballs,’’ Smyly told reporters after the game. ‘‘I had good command with it today, and they were just beating it into the ground. And their aggressiveness just worked into my approach, and I was playing into that. It was unlike me, but I’ll take it. I like the groundballs.’’
It was indeed a change for Smyly, who induced grounders at just under a 65% clip despite carrying a 36.6% career average into the game. Though the results are almost certainly an aberration, it’s probably safe to say this was an area in which the Cubs were hoping the southpaw could improve. Speaking of which, I was at least mildly surprised to see that none of Smyly’s pitches were categorized as changeups or splitters.
There was some word around camp that he was working with a split-change, perhaps in order to correct what had become a reverse platoon split over the last three seasons. Ron Coomer even mentioned on the broadcast that Smyly had been throwing a splitter, so it’s possible the various pitch-tracking services simply didn’t pick up the difference. Or maybe Smyly just didn’t need it.
Whatever the case, he was able to shut the Pirates out for five innings despite getting just one strikeout.
It’s a good thing Smyly was on point because the Cubs were hardly able to do anything against old friend José Quintana. The only damage came when Seiya Suzuki blasted an oppo taco to right-center, his second homer of the season. Reliever Anthony Banda did his best Ethan Roberts impersonation until Suzuki likewise took him yard, this time with a moonshot to the other power alley.
With his second homer of the game, Suzuki joined Shohei Ohtani as the only Japanese-born players with three homers in their first four games. Cherry-picked accomplishments aside, his blend of power and otherworldly patience is far exceeding expectations. Even if things settle down from here, which they surely will, Suzuki has shown he’s got the tools to be a mainstay at the heart of the order.
‘‘I’m just trying to stay aggressive,’’ Suzuki explained through an interpreter after the game. ‘‘If I get behind in the count, I try to make the pitcher throw more pitches, just make it as uncomfortable for them as possible. Obviously, I’m getting lucky, and I just want to continue this.’’
Obviously, he’s being modest. That second shot gave him more homers than swinging strikes on the season, though a strikeout in the 9th tied things back up on the ledger (he had looked at two strikes and fouled two pitches off earlier in the AB).
“He’s good. It’s not rocket science,” acting manager Andy Green said. “He can flat-out swing the bat.”
Regardless of what happens with the Cubs this season, I can guarantee you Suzuki is going to be very fun to watch. He’s provided everything we could have hoped for back when it was first reported that he was going to be posted, but the joy he has brought to the field and clubhouse is an added bonus. I just hope you laid a Rookie of the Year bet in his favor when the odds were a little longer.