Smith: 3 up, 9 swings, 3 K's; is rotation next?

April 30th, 2021

's time in the D-backs’ rotation this year was brief, lasting all of one game before he was sent to the bullpen, and the left-hander would desperately like another shot at starting.

But for now, it's hard to argue with the success he's found in the bullpen.

Smith tossed another dominant inning of relief on Thursday night and picked up the win as the D-backs beat the Rockies, 5-3, at Chase Field.

Acquired by the D-backs from the Marlins at the Trade Deadline last year, Smith entered Spring Training with a rotation spot essentially locked up after pitching well in four games (three starts) for Arizona in 2020.

Even with a rough spring, the team named Smith its No. 3 starter, and he allowed four runs (three earned) over three innings when he faced the Padres in the opening series of the season. That, combined with his spring struggles, prompted the D-backs to send him to the bullpen.

"I was kind of surprised, but I wasn’t throwing the ball that well," Smith said. "And the other starting pitchers were throwing the ball better than I was. So, I mean, I don’t blame them for taking me out of the rotation. I took it very personally. I was [ticked] off. But I have zero say in that, so there’s nothing I can do about it. The only thing I can do is go out whenever they hand me the ball and do the best I can and give the team an opportunity to win."

With that goal in mind, Smith went to the video room and pulled up his outings from 2017 and '19 and found some mechanical issues that he could fix.

"Staying over the rubber a little bit more and not flying out on my front side," Smith said of one of the changes. "It’s allowing my arm to catch up and not be late."

When a pitcher's arm is "late," they can lose command of their pitches and sometimes velocity as well.

Now that he's having success, Smith would like to be back in his old role.

"I’m trying to get back to the rotation as fast as possible," Smith said. "If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’m here for what’s best for the team. So anything they want me to do, I’ll do. And I’ll do it with a smile -- well, maybe not a smile on my face -- but I’ll do it to the best of my ability and I won’t complain about it."

The D-backs, though, seem to not want to mess with the success that Smith is having in the bullpen.

Arizona has a spot open in the rotation after Taylor Widener went on the injured list earlier this week. Riley Smith made a spot start in Widener's place on Wednesday, but the team has not said what it plans to do the next time around.

"I don’t know what that answer is," manager Torey Lovullo said about Caleb Smith taking that spot. "We feel like we have other moving parts in that area that we might look at first, because he’s created a little spot for himself. He’s created a niche to go out and get some big outs and help us win ballgames."

Caleb Smith was downright dominant Thursday, as he struck out all three batters he faced without so much as a foul tip.

"I’ve had conversations with him and I know he wants to be a starter," Lovullo said. "He’s on a great run right now. He got nine swings and misses today, so you know that stuff is pretty good and it’s coming out the right angle and the attack plan is spot on and there’s execution. I don’t want to put any limitations on anybody at any time. But for right now, it’s working really well. He deserves a lot of credit."

Whether they feel he deserves another shot at the rotation any time soon remains to be seen.