Taste of winter ball helps Smith put bitter '22 behind him

February 27th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When the D-backs demoted first baseman/outfielder to Triple-A Reno last July, it was supposed to be a temporary assignment, a couple of weeks, maybe. Club officials wanted him to work on some things with his mechanics and get some confidence back.

In his second game with Reno, though, Smith dove for a ball in right field and injured his right wrist. He was out until the final two weeks of the season.

In an effort to make up for those lost at-bats, the D-backs asked if Smith would consider going to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball.

Smith flew home with the team from Milwaukee after the regular-season finale and one day later he was on a flight to the D.R., where he played for Licey. In 15 games, Smith hit .292 with three doubles, a triple and a home run while posting a .920 OPS.

“We asked him to go down there, and he embraced it,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said.

In some ways, the 2022 season is one Smith would just as soon forget. He had a slash line of .220/.300/.367 in 75 games, and the frustration caught up to him.

“I still had fun with the guys, but just not having confidence is definitely tough,” Smith said. “Going into the box and trying something different every time instead of staying consistent with what you’re doing -- whether you get a hit or not -- is tough.”

So for Smith, going to winter ball provided a chance not only to make up for some missed at-bats, but also to regain some of the confidence and good feelings that were lost when he struggled at the big league level and then had to spend much of the summer watching others play while he rehabbed.

“Just seeing balls drop in, having some success that I could build off,” Pavin said.

This spring, Smith is locked in a battle for a roster spot. Depending on how things shake out, he could be battling and for a reserve spot.

“I love Pavin’s plate discipline,” Lovullo said. “I love his plate coverage and his ability to be a professional hitter. He tries to enhance that with his work every day. I love his process. I love his ability to search for information, trust the information and then be super stubborn to what he’s working on.”

Smith picked up a pair of hits, including a home run, on Sunday in the D-backs’ 18-6 loss to the Padres.

“He's in a good spot,” Lovullo said. “He's balanced. I don’t think he’s trying to go to the pull side. I think he’s trying to see the baseball and just put a good swing on the ball, and those were the results [Sunday].”

Henry’s outing
Left-hander , who is in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, started and allowed five runs (four earned) on three hits in 1 1/3 innings.

All of the runs he allowed came during a nine-run San Diego second inning.

“First inning, felt really good, was flowing, things were working,” Henry said. “Second inning was not that. I just think I didn’t make the right adjustments in the second inning.”

Mistakes starting to pile up 
There are few things that frustrate Lovullo more than fundamental mistakes or defensive lapses.

After a sloppy opener Saturday, the D-backs committed another couple of errors Sunday and made other mistakes that weren’t called errors.

“It was sloppy,” Lovullo said. “Sloppy all the way around. I think, from a pitching standpoint, we weren’t executing, we were falling behind in counts, putting a lot of baserunners on base. Defensively, we broke down a couple times in key situations. We’ve got to be better.”

Lovullo did allow that it’s early in camp so he doesn’t want to overreact. But he does want to make sure the mistakes get addressed.

“If it's April, I'm going to be super pissed,” Lovullo said. “So Game Two of Spring Training, I can live with that a little bit. But like I said, we're not going to miss the opportunity to coach them up and make sure we don't do them again.”