One couldn't help but notice the big smile on Will Smith's face during Friday's Zoom session with the local media. The Braves left-hander is back on the field after spending more than a month on the injured list because of COVID-19.
Smith said he was asymptomatic the entire time and was cleared to return to the team's facilities on July 26. After showing he was in game shape, Smith had a live batting practice session on Monday and then was activated before Thursday's game against the Blue Jays.
Smith, who signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Braves in November, said it was frustrating not being on the field.
"I tried not to take it out on the training staff," said Smith. "It wasn't their fault or anything. They were working just as hard as I was to get this negative test as soon as we could. I was sitting at home feeling completely fine. Not being able to go on the field or be around anybody was tough. I felt I was starting to build those relationships in Spring Training, going to play golf and really getting to know the guys. All of a sudden, [the illness] yanks it away. Then I missed all of [Summer Camp]."
Smith joins a bullpen that is fun to watch. The relievers have been doing the job, putting up zeros and handing it to the next guy. Smith is eager to jump in and join the club. During his time off, Smith picked up the guitar and put puzzles together. He would do almost anything to pass the time away.
"I'm definitely ready to get in there, get the season rolling, get the first one under my belt," Smith said. "There's a few butterflies for sure. I haven't been in a game since Spring Training. That side is a little nerve racking. But it's more of an excitement to get out there, doing what you love again and show these guys what you can bring to the team and this bullpen."
Freeman feels better
It's been two weeks since Freddie Freeman recovered from COVID-19. The Braves first baseman says he feels well physically, but he doesn't feel right at the plate. He hopes that Thursday's game against the Blue Jays was a stepping stone moment. In that game, Freeman went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, including his second home run of the season, in Atlanta's 4-3 victory.
"I still have some indecision at the plate," Freeman said. "I'm taking some fastballs that I normally don't take. I'm working hard, working every day. Hopefully I can build off [Thursday]."
Freeman is now on the road as the Braves play a four-game series against the Phillies, and you can bet he is following the protocols needed to stay healthy.
"It's not that challenging if you take a step back and realize it's two months [of the season]," Freeman said. "Stay in your room for two months. I didn't leave my room until I got on the bus. I called [assistant medical coordinator] Jeff Stevenson and told him I was going to get my coffee, because he has to let people know when you leave the hotel.
"You have two security officers in our lobby who make sure you are following the rules. I let them know I was leaving to get my coffee and get on the bus. It's not really challenging if you wear your mask and stay in your room. We have a pretty good group. They seem to follow the rules."
The Braves placed right-hander Chris Martin on the 10-day injured list Friday, retroactive to Thursday, with an esophageal constriction and recalled right-hander Chad Sobotka. The club also claimed left-hander Robbie Erlin off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates.