MIAMI -- Caleb Smith keeps compiling strikeouts, and in the process is aiming to build up to being a reliable part of the Marlins’ rotation. For the left-hander, it’s just a matter of staying healthy.
When he’s on point, Smith is tough to deal with, as he showed against the Padres on Thursday afternoon, leading up to the Marlins’ first walk-off celebration of the season. With one out in the ninth inning, Brian Anderson slapped an RBI double that scored Yadiel Rivera from second in Miami’s 4-3 victory at Marlins Park.
“We had a great team win,” said Smith, who recorded his 10th start with at least seven strikeouts. “Offense came through late. We swung the bats well, and came out on top.”
Anderson’s heroics off Trey Wingenter enabled the Marlins to take two of three in the series. Garrett Cooper got things going in the ninth with a single off Wingenter, his former teammate at Auburn University. Rivera ran for Cooper, stole second and scored without a play on Anderson’s clutch hit. With the win, the Marlins wrapped up their homestand at 3-3.
Setting the tone in the series victory was Smith, who allowed two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts in five innings. The lefty was in line for a win before Tayron Guerrero surrendered a two-out RBI single to pinch-hitter Francisco Mejia in the sixth inning that tied the game at 3.
“We always have confidence when we have [Smith] out there,” Anderson said. “It seems like every time he's out there, he's giving us a quality start, and he's going deep into games for us. Any time he's out there, we're definitely confident. Offensively, we know we just have to put a couple [of runs] up and play good defense behind him.”
Attacking with his fastball up in the zone, Smith surrenders his share of home runs. Fernando Tatis Jr. reached the Miami starter for a solo shot in the fifth inning, the 16th homer allowed by Smith in 15 starts. But Smith can deal with such occasional solo shots, as long as he stays away from big innings.
Smith’s pitch count ran up to 96 pitches, with 15 swinging strikes. With his slider a bit off, he went more heavily with four-seam fastballs, tossing 69 of them with 11 swinging strikes.
“You always want to go deeper into games,” Smith said. “My mindset whenever I start the game is to finish the game, every time. My pitch count got up there. They fouled off a lot of pitches. I walked two guys. You can't stay in games long if you do that.”
The rotation is the foundation of the Marlins’ building plan, and Smith promises to be a big part of it. But as a left-hander with five years of club control before reaching free agency, he’s also an attractive trade chip.
At least a dozen scouts attended the series, and many of them were on hand to evaluate the pitching on both teams.
The Marlins aren’t looking to move Smith, but if they are blown away by an offer, they’d certainly entertain the idea.
Business side of the sport aside, the Marlins are looking for Smith to get back into form. Thursday was his third start since missing five weeks due to left hip inflammation.
“Obviously, it starts with Smitty today,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I thought his fastball command was actually better. It didn't look like he was able to find that good slider today, but he hung in there. Obviously, a lot of pitches through five.”