For one inning, Pavin Smith travels the path not taken

Former pitching prospect returns to the mound against the Padres

June 9th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- was a sought-after pitcher following a senior year in high school in which he went 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 32 innings.

In fact, he signed a letter of intent to go to the University of Virginia to pitch, but an injury in fall baseball prior to his freshman year led to Tommy John surgery. So he focused strictly on hitting, which turned out well for him as the D-backs selected him seventh overall in the 2017 MLB Draft as a first baseman.

Smith got the chance to relive a bit of his pitching past Saturday night, when he was called on to work the eighth inning in Arizona’s 13-1 loss to the Padres at Petco Park.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” Smith said of his scoreless inning. “That strike zone feels tight.”

Smith was needed because the D-backs’ bullpen has been running on fumes lately, and the Padres chased Ryne Nelson from the game in the fourth inning. First out of the bullpen on Saturday, Logan Allen could go just one inning as San Diego scored six runs off him.

When he needs a position player to pitch an inning, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo usually prefers to use a catcher, but with starting backstop Gabriel Moreno scratched from the lineup due to illness, Lovullo decided to go with Smith.

“Pavin pitched in college, and he's been talking about it,” Lovullo said. “Every now and then, we have a conversation about it. So I thought, ‘Well, let’s give it a shot.”

Not wanting to risk injury, Smith lobbed the ball to the plate initially, but he struggled to command the ball that way. He hit the first batter he faced, David Peralta, and then walked Jackson Merrill.

In front of a sellout crowd, the nerves ratcheted up for Smith, who decided that he was going to throw a little harder -- like he would if he were playing first base and throwing to second to start a double play.

“Basically [Lovullo] just said go out there and throw strikes,” Smith said. “And when I wasn't throwing strikes, I was like, ‘I better pick out something.’ So I just threw a little bit harder and was able to find the zone.

“I know what these pitchers go through now. I mean, the plate looks really small from 60 feet away. It looks big from the batter’s box.”

Smith got Ha-Seong Kim, who hit a three-run homer earlier in the game, to fly out. After Kyle Higashioka reached on an error to load the bases, Smith got two-time batting champion Luis Arraez to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“He’s an Arraez killer,” Lovullo joked after the game.

The D-backs’ pitching situation right now, though, is not a laughing matter to Lovullo. They will go with reliever Scott McGough as an opener on Sunday in the series finale, and they likely will add someone from Triple-A Reno to handle the bulk of the innings.