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Smith struggles with command in MLB debut

PITTSBURGH -- Josh Smith walked only 13 batters in 74 innings during his 13 starts in the Minors this season. Unfortunately for Smith, his Major League debut for the Reds on Tuesday will be remembered for the oodles of walks he issued vs. the Pirates and the big lead he gave up.

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In a 7-6 Reds' loss to Pittsburgh, Smith walked six batters while lasting three-plus innings. The 27-year-old rookie pitcher, called up to be the fifth starter when Johnny Cueto was pushed back from starting the game, did not give up a hit until the fourth inning, before the bottom fell out on his 4-0 lead.

"We were in a spot there where we're breaking in a new kid and Josh struggled a little bit with his command," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That will certainly get better the more experience he gets, because he's a strike-thrower."

A 21st-round pick in the 2010 Draft, Smith still greatly appreciated his debut. He also lined a leadoff single in his first at-bat during the second inning.

Video: CIN@PIT: Smith notches first Major League hit

"Unbelievable. Obviously I've been blessed to be here," Smith said. "I've got a lot to work on, but it was a great experience. I'll try to get better each time out."

In the first inning, Smith got a called third strike against his first batter -- Gregory Polanco. Three-straight walks followed which loaded the bases, but Josh Harrison grounded into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

"It was a little bit of everything, first and second [innings] especially," Smith said. "I was a little nervous, really excited and trying to be fine and I ended up walking guys."

Video: CIN@PIT: Reds escape jam with inning-ending DP

A two-out walk to No. 8 hitter Jordy Mercer did not haunt in the second inning. Polanco walked to begin the third inning, but was caught stealing. The leadoff walk to Neil Walker in the fourth began a quick unraveling of Smith's night. Harrison followed with the first Pittsburgh hit, a single to left field. Pedro Alvarez hit a RBI double and after a mound visit from pitching coach Jeff Pico, Francisco Cervelli hit the game-tying three-run homer to center field.

And that was it for Smith. His line over the three innings was four earned runs and three hits with six walks and three strikeouts. Of his 79 pitches thrown, 39 were strikes.

"The thing is the walks didn't really hurt early as far as the line score the first three innings," Price said. "It hurt with pitch count and pitches seen per hitter. There's a huge advantage in seeing more pitches and seeing his full mix, to have a chance to see a fastball, a breaking ball and changeup in an at-bat.

"You've seen everything and he gets into some bad counts and they take advantage of some mistakes. It's really one of those things where it's, 'Thank goodness this one is over, now let's go to work.'"

Uneven nights like this have become more common this season for the Reds' rotation. Smith was the fifth rookie to start a game for Cincinnati this season, joining Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias and Jon Moscot. In 69 games, a rookie has started 31 times. Smith is due to start again on Sunday vs. the Mets.

"You ask Moscot, you ask Lorenzen, I imagine they'll say the same thing," Price said. "If you let it, the game will speed up on you and then the next thing you know, you'll try to make perfect pitches with guys on base and it never bodes well for the pitcher."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.
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