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All eyes on Drew Smyly as he returns to Mariners after stellar WBC performance

Mariners pitcher Drew Smyly's surprising velocity in the World Baseball Classic has turned heads. (AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Drew Smyly had to wait nine days between spring starts, but it was worth it.

On the front end of those nine days was three innings of one-hit, no-run ball for the Mariners against a Texas Rangers lineup missing many of its regulars in front of 5,400 in Surprise. Nine days later, with USA on his chest facing Venezuela’s best in front of a loud and raucous World Baseball Classic crowd at Petco Park in San Diego, he would allow just one run and strike out eight over 4 2/3 innings, setting Team USA up nicely for a 4-2 win.

“It was awesome,” Smyly said at his locker back in Peoria on Friday. “Sweet experience. I soaked up every moment of it. I was glad I got to be a part of it, it was awesome.”

Drayer: Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. impressed by Smyly in WBC

Team USA remains in the tournament with a loser-out/winner-goes-on game tonight against Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura and the Dominican Republic, but Smyly is back with his new team. While his performance would most likely earn him another in almost any other situation, Smyly was told from the onset that he would pitch just one game.

“You would want to be there as long as you can with the team, get the awesome experience to get to be in the same locker room with all those guys, but the plan all along was one start,” he said. “That’s what it was from the beginning so that’s what I did.”

Smyly made the most of his one outing. When asked what was working for him that night, the answer came quickly.

“Everything,” he said. “I was just locked in. I had good command, I was jacked up, probably throwing a little harder than I usually do. I knew I only had 60 pitches so I just tried to make the most of it.”

Smyly’s stuff was good, and the velocity was surprising – for some – sitting at 93-94 mph with his fastball, a good 3 mph over his career average. It led scouts to say it was the best he’s ever looked, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

“Obviously I had extra days rest, more adrenaline than a normal start,” Smyly said. “I don’t feel I was throwing harder than I ever had before. I’ve definitely thrown that hard in the past so I don’t make much out of it.”

There is no question the eyes will be on the radar gun in Smyly’s next start. While adrenaline, freshness and offseason work can play into an uptick, in spring training and often into the early season, starters work up to their upper velocities. To see this out of the gate is a good kind of interesting.

In addition to the velocity, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. was excited by what he saw in Smyly’s pitch selection in his WBC appearance. The Mariners are trying to get him to use his changeup more than he has in the past to help set up his put-away pitches better.

We should get another look at Smyly on Tuesday either in the game against the A’s in Peoria Stadium or on a back field in a minor league game.

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