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Open to starting, Smith posts big month in relief

MILWAUKEE -- Left-hander Will Smith is one-third of the way to one of the best seasons for a reliever in Brewers history, but even with his recent success he remains open-minded about his long-term role with the organization.

In other words, if the Brewers asked him to move back to the starting rotation, he would do it.

"I want to be in the big leagues," Smith said Sunday, after he was named the Brewers' pitcher of the month for May. "I am being honest, because of what I went through last year [with the Royals], going up and down seven times. It put things in perspective, like, 'Who cares what you do, as long as you're up here?'"

Smith became quite familiar last year with the three-hour drive between Triple-A Omaha and Kansas City, but he now appears a big league fixture with the Brewers. They acquired him in a November trade for Nori Aoki and ticketed Smith for a bullpen role in 2014, with the idea that he could switch back to starting if needed.

It has been a good fit so far. Smith entered Sunday with the second-best ERA (0.36) among Major Leaguers who have pitched in more than 10 games this season. Only San Francisco's Jean Machi (0.33) has been harder to score against. Among pitchers who have logged at least 20 innings, only eight had more strikeouts per nine innings than Smith's 12.79.

The best ERAs in Brewers history for pitchers who appeared in at least 10 games belong to Julio Machado (0.69 ERA in 10 games in 1990), Ray Searage (0.70 ERA in 21 games in 1984), Doug Jones (1.00 ERA in 32 games in 1991) and Rollie Fingers (1.04 ERA and 28 saves in 47 games in 1981, when he won the American League MVP Award and Cy Young Award in a strike-shortened season).

Like Fingers', Smith's best pitch is a sharp slider. But asked to identify the key to his early-season success, Smith didn't mention that pitch.

"Getting people out," he said. "I'm keeping things simple. I'm not trying to over-think the situation. Get the ball to Frankie [Rodriguez, the Brewers' current closer] with a lead. If I do that, we have a good chance of winning."

While Smith was honored for his pitching, Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez was voted the team's player of the month for May after batting .354 with four home runs, 16 RBIs and seven stolen bases for the month.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.
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