Smith 'pumped' to rejoin Tribe's bullpen

August 1st, 2017

BOSTON -- The Indians' clubhouse staff did what any good friend would do when a familiar face was returning after a long absence. They pulled a prank on veteran reliever Joe Smith.

When Smith arrived to the visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park on Tuesday afternoon prior to the Indians' 12-10 loss to the Red Sox, his nameplate had No. 83 listed. The clubhouse staff told Smith he would have to pay up if he wanted No. 38 again.

"That's all right," Smith said with a laugh. "I think my jersey says '38,' or at least I hope it does."

Indeed it did, just like during Smith's first stint with the Indians from 2009-13. Prior to Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Cleveland sent a pair of Minor Leaguers to the Blue Jays to acquire Smith, who will give manager Terry Francona another option for late innings. Back in '13 under Francona, Smith was also a late-game anchor for the Tribe.

To add Smith to the active roster, Cleveland optioned reliever to Triple-A Columbus.

This was not like a typical Deadline deal, in which a player arrives to an unfamiliar place and has to quickly find a way to fit into the clubhouse culture and figure out his role. When Smith walked into the clubhouse on Tuesday, there were a dozen players who were on Cleveland's roster when he last pitched for the Tribe. Closer and setup man were part of the bullpen back then, too.

"It just makes it so much easier to come in and know the culture, know what's going on, not having to worry about new names, new faces and all that stuff," said Smith, who allowed just one hit over two scoreless frames on Tuesday. "That, and having another chance to try to win a ring, I don't know how to put it into words. I was pumped and so is my whole family."

This season, the 33-year-old Smith had a 3.28 ERA in 38 appearances for the Blue Jays, posting career bests in strikeouts per nine innings (12.1) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.1). Through 35 2/3 innings, the sidearmer had 51 strikeouts against 10 walks, while limiting right-handed batters to a .211 average (.527 OPS) with a 38.3 strikeout percentage.

Smith's showing against righties can help offer some balance in the bullpen, given that Shaw has actually been better against lefties (.504 OPS) than righties (.737 OPS) this season. It will also help Francona ease some of the workload for Shaw, who leads the Majors with 349 appearances over the past five seasons. This year, Shaw has already worked in 50 games, posting a 2.90 ERA.

"I know we use our guys a lot," said Francona. "It's kind of a fact of life, but I would hope that we've never pitched [Shaw] when he felt like he shouldn't. And saying that, I've been pretty open about it. I always worry about those guys, because I care about them. We didn't get Smitty just because of Shaw. We just thought that of the guys that maybe we could get, we thought he could help us."