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Smyly, Giants helped each other, but reunion might be hard

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Drew Smyly's biggest start as a Giant was a little shorter than he probably hoped. There was an odd reason for that. Smyly went five innings in Game No. 60 against the San Diego Padres but needed a season-high 98 pitches to get that far. 

"The only reason we ran out of pitches with him is because he was striking everybody out," manager Gabe Kapler said of Smyly, who struck out 10. 

Smyly probably didn't feel this way after that season-ending loss, but that's a huge silver lining from his first season with the Giants, a platform year before another experience with the open market. For both sides, it was a year that worked out largely as hoped. 

A finger strain limited Smyly to seven appearances -- five of which were starts -- but he gave the Giants exactly what they anticipated when they signed him to an under-the-radar deal in January worth $4 million plus incentives (only one of which he hit).

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Smyly had a 3.42 ERA and 2.01 FIP. He struck out 14.4 batters per nine, more than qualified MLB leader and AL Cy Young Award favorite Shane Bieber (14.2).

In Smyly, the Giants hit the jackpot by following a couple of tenets of the Farhan Zaidi Era. They have repeatedly gone after players with a strong pedigree that never turned into stars, and Smyly was a former second-round draft pick who was a top prospect nearly a decade ago before injuries repeatedly slowed him down. The Giants also believe strongly in the new coaching staff's ability to continue player development at the big league level, and Smyly certainly saw improvements. 

 

The main difference was in fastball velocity, and a lot of that was just being healthy. Smyly hit 96 mph when he returned from the IL and averaged 93.8 for the season, an increase of 2.6 mph from 2019. He pocketed his changeup, becoming a three-pitch guy, and threw his curveball a career-high 36.5 percent of the time, with opponents batting just .184 against it. 

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The 31-year-old set himself up well for free agency, which means now comes the hard part for the Giants. Zaidi has said he wants Smyly back, but the veteran will have a lot more options than he did nine months ago. It should help, though, that Smyly repeatedly talked about how much he enjoyed playing in San Francisco. 

"I honestly truly loved it here," he said. "I think it's a great place to pitch, it's a great city to be in, the weather, the teammates, the guys, the culture. I loved everything about playing here and being a Giant."