PITTSBURGH -- The Phillies needed one last look at Drew Smyly on Friday before they would sign him to a deal and add him to their rotation. So their coaching staff gathered in the bullpen at PNC Park before opening a three-game series with the Pirates and asked Andrew Knapp to catch.

Smyly told Knapp that he would be throwing him a curveball, but then the lefthander’s pitch moved like a screwball. It seemed to come out of his hand across the plate before breaking in the other direction.

“I didn’t know if it was a bad one or a good one,” Knapp said.

It was a good one, Smyly insisted. Knapp trusted him and then he saw two days later just how good the veteran’s unique curveball could be. Smyly used his curveball in his Phillies debut to generate eight swings-and-misses. He racked up five of his eight strikeouts with curveballs. Knapp called on the pitch 30 percent of the time as it continued to fool the Pirates in a 2-1 win.

“It’s the strangest curveball I’ve ever caught,” Knapp said. “No joke.”

The Phillies asked Smyly to attack the Pirates with his cutter, throw his fastball up in the zone, and then unleash the funky curveball. It worked. Smyly allowed just one run in six innings, walked two, and allowed four hits. He looked like quite a different pitcher than the one who had a 7.90 ERA this season in nine starts with Texas.

“I was pretty predictable in Texas,” Smyly said. “I wasn't good. I didn't perform well. I got designated for assignment. I know what I'm capable of. I've had a lot of good seasons in the past before my Tommy John surgery. So I just need to get back. The game has changed a little bit in the last two years and I just have to get back to attacking hitters and keeping them off balance. I think I have a good idea of how to do that now.”

Smyly had interest from other teams last week after he opted out of his contract with Milwaukee, but he wanted to remain a starting pitcher, and the Phillies gave him that option. They have struggled this season to field a starting rotation. More help could be coming before the July 31 trade deadline. Smyly will not be a savior, but his first start offered promise. And his curveball gives the Phillies something to dream on.

“It’s certainly encouraging and we look forward to his next start,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Extra bases

The Phillies designated Fernando Salas for assignment to make room on the roster for Smyly. It is the second time in three weeks that Salas was designated. He cleared waivers earlier this month before returning to triple A. The Phillies will try to pass him through again. ... Aaron Nola will face Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd, who could be of interest to the Phillies if they try to add a premium pitcher before the trade deadline. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak had already planned to join the team in Detroit, but now he has a chance to see a possible trade candidate.