WASHINGTON -- Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart was drafted in 2009, one year ahead of Reds reliever Josh Smith, but the two seemed to follow similar paths as they worked their way up through the system. That was until they reached the Major Leagues, where Barnhart became more established, while Smith was on the cusp of falling off the radar.
But Smith, who wasn't even invited to big league camp this year, has found his way back and has largely been dependable. The improvement culminated in his first big league win on Saturday, with four big outs that enabled Barnhart to deliver the game-winning hit for a 9-4 win over the Nationals in 10 innings.
"Josh and I have played together for a long time, so being able to aid in the process of him getting his first big league win, it's definitely really special," Barnhart said.
After Blake Wood blew starter Dan Straily's lead in the eighth -- issuing three walks and Bryce Harper's game-tying hit, which made it a 4-4 game -- Smith inherited a bases-loaded jam with two outs. Smith got Clint Robinson to pop out to end the eighth, then, in the ninth, he needed just 12 pitches to retire the side in order and force extras.
In the five-run 10th, it was Barnhart's single that produced the go-ahead runs.
"It's only fitting that he got that hit," Smith said.
Last season, after debuting in the Majors as a starter, Smith went 0-4 with a 6.89 ERA in nine games, including seven starts. He was known for throwing strikes in the Minors, but his command was poor in the big leagues and he ran up high pitch counts and walks -- 21 in 32 2/3 innings.
"I was just trying to do more than I'm capable of," Smith said. "I'm not a guy that's going to throw 100 [mph]. I'm a guy that's going to throw strikes with all my pitches. Last year I didn't do it. There were some mechanical problems. But [I watched] a lot of film and a lot of breakdown in the offseason, and I came back a lot better this year."
Although Smith was relegated to the Minor League camp this past spring, the tumultuous year for the Reds' bullpen created an opening, and he was promoted on May 22. With the exception of five runs over 1 2/3 innings in mop-up work his last time out, on Thursday, he's been dependable. He's thrown more than one inning in nine of his last 10 appearances, including three straight scoreless outings.
"He's gotten a second chance and is taking advantage of it as a relief pitcher," manager Bryan Price said. "What he's doing is creating a situation where he's a guy that can be a trusted piece in a late-game situation. So he's done a lot of good things for himself."