The competitor in Smith wanted to keep going, and get the final out to end the inning. But the preservation of one of the Marlins’ long-term pitching assets made the decision an easy one for manager Don Mattingly, who hopped up the dugout steps to make the pitching change.
Smith’s afternoon was done after 5 2/3 innings. The lefty had recovered nicely after allowing a two-out, two-run homer to Ryan Braun in the third inning. Braun’s opposite-field blast powered the Brewers’ 3-2 win over the Marlins, which completed a four-game series sweep at Marlins Park.
“He just wouldn't go down,” Smith said of the 10-pitch exchange with Gamel. “He had a good at-bat.”
Even with a rising pitch count, Smith makes it clear when he gets the ball, he doesn’t like to relinquish it easily.
“I definitely want to stay in,” the lefty said. “You're never going to see me want to come out of the game. I don't care what the situation is. If I'm hurt, I'm never going to want to come out.”
Smith has dropped four straight decisions, but for the second straight start, the 28-year-old showed signs of regaining the form that made him the Marlins’ most successful starter for much of the first half.
“If you're going to take steps forward, you're going to have to get better,” Mattingly said of the lone lefty in his rotation. “We know he's a competitor. We know he's going to fight you. You see it in everything he does. But going in to fight and just throwing haymakers, gets you hit in the head. You have to be particular in what you do. I think that's the case with Caleb.”
As they’re playing out the regular season, the Marlins are now 51-95 and inching closer to the organization’s third 100-loss season. They dropped 100 in 2013 and 108 in 1998.
At 8-10 with a 4.13 ERA, Smith paces the Marlins in victories. He’s also at 139 1/3 innings, a personal MLB high. A year ago, he logged 77 1/3 innings, missing the entire second half due to left lat surgery.
“I'm not going to let him be at 107 trying to get Arcia out, right there when you've got a righty with a slider out there in that situation,” Mattingly said of Kinley.
The costly inning for Smith was the third, when he allowed a leadoff single to Brewers lefty Gio Gonzalez, his first hit of the season. Braun’s homer to right came with two outs, and it was the 999th shot ever at Marlins Park, which opened in 2012.
“He's a great pitcher, too,” Gonzalez said of Smith. “I give him credit. He was doing a great job, I got lucky. I put a lucky swing on it, and that was it. There's no other mystery to that. It was just close your eyes, see if you can put it in play.”
Smith entered the game averaging 10.5 K/9, and he paces the club with 160 strikeouts.
“We love to talk about the swing and miss with Caleb,” Mattingly said. “But it's really going to get down to him locating. You see the first couple of innings, it looks like he's a bit spraying the ball out of the zone over there.”
The 107 pitches are the second most Smith has tossed this year. On May 7 vs. the Cubs in Chicago, he finished with 112 in 6 2/3 innings.
Smith also missed a month in the first half because of left hip inflammation. Due to his injury history, coupled with his season workload, Mattingly didn’t hesitate taking the ball from Smith, who visibly wanted to remain in the game.
Of all the numbers on the day, however, the one that ultimately mattered most to Mattingly was Smith’s 107 pitches.
“It's not based off the amount of pitches I throw, it's stressful pitches,” Smith said. “I didn't think I threw that many stressful pitches. I threw 107 pitches today. I didn't feel like it was that much. I just have to find a way to harness that and be as effective early as I am later in the game.”