Smyly's Attitude Helps Him Back

FAYETTEVILLE — It wasn't his sneaky-fast fastball. Wasn't his devastatingly slow changeup. Wasn't his hard-breaking curveball, either.

In fact, Arkansas freshman catcher James McCann says that freshman pitcher Drew Smyly's most important attribute has nothing to do with physical ability. It's the 6-foot-4, 200-pound left-hander's desire that allowed Smyly to endure a midseason slump and nearly no-hit Oklahoma to clinch the Norman (Okla.) Regional title.

"He just wants the ball and wants to pitch," McCann said, the day after catching Smyly's 12-strikeout performance over 8 1/3 innings at L. Dale Mitchell Park. "He doesn't let anything bother him. He doesn't let anything affect him, not even the umpire. He just wants to pitch. When he does that, he can be one of the best pitchers in the nation."

Smyly started out the 2009 campaign, after elbow surgery forced him to redshirt in 2008, by sticking to that attitude. As a weekend starter, he ripped off five consecutive successful starts to open this season.

But somewhere along the way, he briefly lost sight of this perspective.

He failed to reach the second inning of three different Southeastern Conference starts, temporarily losing a spot in Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn's rotation. Still, he never lost his passion to pitch, and Smyly had the guts to demand the ball from Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn for Sunday's contest.

The coaches gambled on him, and Smyly delivered, coming two outs from throwing a no-hitter. He'll take the mound again on Sunday if No. 16 Arkansas' Super Regional at No. 8 Florida State goes all three games

"It's been an up and down season for sure," said Smyly, a graduate of Little Rock Central High. "I started off real good, but had that bad stretch in the middle. ... I got a lot of criticism. But I just shook it off."

Smyly credited his unexpected year away from baseball for teaching him the patience to fight through this season's rough patch. He expected to contribute right away last season. Fate intervened, though, when he fielded a bunt and fired a throw to first base during a February 2008 intrasquad game.

A bone in his left elbow snapped, and he stood baffled, in pain, unable to move his arm at all. He wouldn't throw off a mound for eight months, persisting through a difficult rehabilitation, lifting weights whenever possible and learning as much as he could. Smyly called the injury "a blessing in disguise."

Van Horn said Smyly increased his strength and approached his time away the right way.

"He got to watch," Van Horn said. "You can't buy that experience. You have to see it, and he got to. He just worked hard. He came back this fall and was even bigger than when he left last May."

Smyly's role for the Razorbacks was in jeopardy, however, after recording only two outs on April 26 at Tennessee. He had faced only six batters on March 29 against Mississippi State and didn't get anyone out on April 5 at South Carolina.

Even then, Van Horn could pick up on the qualities McCann identified to describe Smyly.

"I know he was really upset with himself after some bad outings," Van Horn said. "He kept telling us to leave him in and give him a little more chance."

The coaches eventually went back to Smyly, a move that paid off. Smyly gave up no earned runs in six innings against Oral Roberts on May 12 and pitched twice in relief before telling Jorn he "wanted the ball" against Oklahoma. He initiated the conversation with Jorn on Saturday night, but just to make sure, he pleaded again the next morning.

"I told him I felt like I could get it done and that I wanted it bad," Smyly said.

He won't have to ask this week.



WHEN: Friday-Sunday, all games at 11 a.m.

WHERE: Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.

TV: ESPN (Friday, Sunday); ESPN2 (Saturday).

ON THE AIR: KFAY-AM 1030; KURM-AM 790, FM 100.3; FM 103.1; KYNG-AM 1590; KHGG-AM 1580.

RECORDS: Arkansas Razorkbacks, 37-22; Florida State Seminoles, 45-16.

SERIES RECORD: Arkansas leads 3-0.

LAST MEETING: Arkansas beat Florida State 7-5 and 4-2 June 11-12 in the 2004 Super Regionals in Fayetteville to advance to the College World Series.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Arkansas, LHP Dallas Keuchel (7-3, 4.12), RHP Brett Eibner (5-4, 4.25), LHP Drew Smyly (3-1, 4.72); Florida State, LHP Sean Gilmartin (12-3, 3.48), LHP Brian Busch (6-2, 4.04), RHP Mike McGee (6-2, 4.04).


Winner Score Site Date

Arkansas 4-2 Fayetteville June 12, 2004

Arkansas 7-5 Fayetteville June 11, 2004

Arkansas 7-6 Tallahassee, Fla. May 25, 1985

* all NCAA Tournament Games

Drew Smyly

Class: Freshman

Position: Left-handed pitcher

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 200 pounds

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Little Rock Central High

Notables: Allowed only one hit and set career highs in strikeouts (12) and innings (8 1/3) in Arkansas' 11-0 Norman Regional-clinching victory last Sunday at Oklahoma. ... Letting opponents hit .247 off him, has struck out 53 batters in 53 1/3 innings and sports a 3-1 record with a 4.72 earned run average. ... Set school records of 10 wins and 118 strikeouts as a junior at Little Rock Central High.

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