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Change for the better? Smyly tinkers with pitch

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the first time since June 23, Drew Smyly threw two innings in a game Wednesday. That's how specialized of a late-inning reliever Smyly had become last season before moving back into the rotation this winter with the Doug Fister trade.

That's just part of the transition for him, though. For the first time ever, he came to Spring Training with a job sewn up instead of having to win one. And while he insists he isn't taking anything for granted, he also isn't ignoring the leeway it gives him to tinker with secondary pitches for the regular season instead of worrying about results each time out.

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None of those pitches is more of a project for him than the changeup, a pitch he threw occasionally as a starter two years ago but shelved in the bullpen last season. After an opening inning to get used to game action again, he brought out the changeup time and again to the Braves on Wednesday, when the Tigers pulled out a 6-5 rain-shortened win.

"The first inning I was just trying to get back into the groove, the rhythm and compete against a good lineup," Smyly said. "And then my second inning, I threw seven or eight of them. I threw a lot of changeups the second inning, probably more than what I would in certain situations. I threw some pretty good changeups that they fouled off, and I threw a couple bad ones. But that's part of it and I have a month to keep getting better."

Smyly gave up two hits and a walk in the second inning, all with two outs, to plate a run after retiring the first five batters he faced.

Smyly threw his changeup on less than five percent of his pitches in 2012, according to STATS, in part because the ones he threw tended to get hit. He didn't need it in relief, especially after he shifted to short work.

"The more spring goes, I hope to get a little better feel for it," Smyly said. "Even pitchers with a really good changeup, I think they might say that early in spring. It's a feel pitch, so you just have to keep throwing it in game situations and eventually it'll just be there, and hopefully you can rely on it."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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