Smith (8 K's) gives Marlins fresh look vs. Royals

Left-hander sheds beard, logs 6 strong innings in no-decision

September 8th, 2019

MIAMI -- On a night they fumbled away the lead in the seventh inning, and lost for the 26th time in their last 34 games, something looked drastically different for the Marlins on Saturday night.

The most noticeable change was left-hander scrapped his shaggy beard, retaining his mustache and sporting a soul patch. With a fresh new appearance, Smith resembled the way he threw early in the season, fanning eight in six scoreless innings.

But the wheels came off for the Marlins in a sloppy seventh inning, when reliever surrendered a three-run double to Ryan McBroom in a six-run inning, and the Royals claimed a 7-2 victory at Marlins Park.

“I felt back to being me,” said Smith, who received a no-decision. “I was able to locate my pitches, and throw my offspeed where I wanted. It was a good night for me.”

Smith’s appearance caught his teammates by surprise.

“They didn't recognize me,” he said. “I didn't recognize myself when I looked in the mirror.”

But Smith’s six shutout innings and eight strikeouts were refreshing because he hadn’t struck out that many since posting nine in seven innings in a win over the D-backs on July 29.

From the team standpoint, the rough seventh started with lefty Adam Conley surrendering a leadoff single to Bubba Starling on a routine grounder to second. But first baseman Garrett Cooper was too far off the bag and he couldn’t retreat to first, and Conley dropped Starlin Castro’s throw. Starling was credited with an infield single.

“A little sloppy with the errors, and even the mental side of that,” manager Don Mattingly said. “Mental errors, too.”

After breaking things open in the seventh inning, the Royals secured the series win, taking the first two in the three-game set. And Miami’s misery continues. Since Aug. 1, when they walked off the Twins, 5-4, the Marlins were 42-65. Since then, they are 8-26, falling to 50-91 overall.

From a broader, bigger-picture perspective, Smith’s outing was Miami’s biggest takeaway. Smith, a vital part of the future, turned in his second scoreless outing of the season. The only other time he didn’t yield a run was in a win over the Phillies on April 13, which was his third start.

“I really do believe what's going on this year with Caleb is really going to help him,” Mattingly said. “He's going to know what exactly he has to do, and he's going to know when he doesn't, it's going to cost him.”

As for the beard, after posting a 6.39 ERA in five August starts, and giving up seven runs (six earned) in a loss on Sept. 1 at Washington, Smith decided to shed the beard. The decision came when he was getting a haircut at the ballpark about two hours before the game started.

“The beard wasn't working, so I had to try something different,” Smith said.

Smith was spot on in his 100-pitch performance against the Royals, scattering four hits, walking two and fanning eight. He even drove in the run that gave Miami the lead in the second inning, getting grazed by a Danny Duffy pitch on his throwing elbow with the bases loaded. 

“Barely grazed the elbow pad, so that was good,” Smith said.

Smith attacked up in the zone with his four-seam fastball. Of his 100 pitches, 42 were four-seamers and he got four swinging strikes and 10 called. Per Statcast, his fastball average was 91 mph, and he maxed at 93 mph.

"He's tough, man," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's got good numbers. He kept pounding us in with the fastball, slider. I knew that we were going to have to continue to battle, just keep battling.”

Smith’s slider had the sharpness from earlier in the season. Of the 39 he threw, seven were swinging strikes.

“That's a big combination for me,” Smith said. “Obviously, my fastball velocity is down right now. I'm still getting swings and misses. It helps my slider a lot. For me, it’s just giving the team the best opportunity to win.”