PHOENIX–The Giants didn’t trade for Will Smith so he could close games, but not much has gone according to plan for the lefty since San Francisco swung a deadline deal for Smith in 2016.
General manager Bobby Evans acquired Smith to provide stability for a Giants bullpen in the throws of a playoff race, but the club suffered through a second half collapse and was bounced in the NLDS by the Chicago Cubs.
The Giants opened spring training in 2017 expecting Smith to establish himself as the club’s top left-hander following the retirement of Javier Lopez, but Smith tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow before the regular season began.
Smith’s injury required Tommy John surgery and 13 months of a grueling rehab and recovery process, but on May 2 of 2018, he entered his first game since the 2016 playoffs.
Two months after making a successful return to the mound, Smith is the Giants’ most dominant reliever, sporting a 1.13 ERA in 24 innings of work. So with Hunter Strickland on the disabled list and Sam Dyson needing a day of rest, manager Bruce Bochy called on Smith to close out a 2-1 win over the D’backs Friday.
After setting the D’backs down in order to pick up his second career save, Smith said he didn’t feel any additional adrenaline pitching in the ninth inning.
“Not really,” Smith said. “I’m still just trying to put up a zero and get guys out.”
He might want to get used to that.
Strickland isn’t expected back until the middle of August while Bochy has been cautious with using Dyson and fellow right-hander Mark Melancon on back-to-back days.
Smith has rarely pitched on consecutive days either, but he’s hoping his workload increases as he continues to show no signs of wear and tear from the surgery.
It wasn’t part of the plan entering 2018 for Smith to be shutting the door at the end of games, but Bochy said he may turn to him again Saturday if the Giants have a save situation.
Sixteen months after undergoing a career-altering surgery, Smith is pitching better than he ever and has proven he can get both righties and lefties out with ease. Though the journey back from surgery was rigorous, Smith points to an interaction he had with catcher Buster Posey in the spring of 2017 that inspired him to maintain focus throughout his recovery process.
“I was down, not the happiest guy in the world,” Smith said. “(Posey) said ‘Hey, I know it sucks, yada, yada, yada, all of this stuff, but hey, your responsibility to the team now is to get better.”
Smith isn’t concerned about when he’ll hear his name called because he said the Giants relievers treat every inning like it’s the ninth.
“We’re all closers out there,” Smith said. “You’re the closer of the sixth inning, the seventh inning or the eighth inning. It’s just one guy happens to throw the ninth inning and the game is over. If it’s the 10th inning, we’d have another closer down there.”
While Smith grew accustomed to closing the seventh and eighth innings, the Giants will likely reward his recent performances with more chances to close in the ninth.
Source: East Bay Buster Posey’s advice helped Giants reliever return in top form