Smith to make spring de­but on Wed­nes­day

Lefty on tar­get, ready to make his pitch for a spot in ro­ta­tion

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Wells Dusen­bury

JUPITER — After a near-eight month stretch with­out fac­ing an op­pos­ing team, Caleb Smith is just days away from toe­ing the rub­ber again.

The left-handed starter — who missed the sec­ond half of last sea­son with a shoul­der in­jury — is sched­uled to make his spring train­ing de­but on Wed­nes­day against the Car­di­nals.

Last sea­son, the 27-year-old made 16 starts in his rookie cam­paign be­fore suf­fer­ing a Grade-3 lat strain in late June, re­quir­ing sea­son-end­ing surgery.

Smith has been healthy through­out camp, but the Mar­lins have been cau­tious in eas­ing him back. The lefty has pitched in three sim-games on the Jupiter fa­cil­ity’s back fields. The Mar­lins have con­sis­tently in­creased his work­load dur­ing each ap­pear­ance. On Fri­day, Smith threw a four-in­ning sim start, which man­ager Don Mat­tingly said went well.

“He’s re­ally not be­hind from the stand­point of vol­ume,” Mat­tingly said. “That was a four-in­ning game [he pitched] yes­ter­day —

60 pitches; same as all our other guys are do­ing. He’s pretty much on track pitch-wise. It’s just get­ting that same en­ergy. They’ve been try­ing to con­trol the en­ergy — the over-amped get­ting back on the field thing.”

“The in­ten­sity will nat­u­rally go up be­ing on the field with the other team and ev­ery­thing else. Those [sim-]games back there are good and we’ve amped them up a lit­tle bit — yes­ter­day there was an um­pire. It’s gone more to­ward a reg­u­lar game, but you still can’t get that [feel]. So, we’ll use the same vol­ume, but know­ing the in­ten­sity will prob­a­bly be a lit­tle more than a reg­u­lar game.”

The 6-foot-2 lefty started 16 games last sea­son, post­ing a 4.19 ERA and

88 strike­outs in 771⁄3 in­nings. One of the bright spots from 2018, Smith daz­zled op­po­nents with his four-seam fast­ball/ slider com­bi­na­tion, rack­ing

up at least seven strike­outs in six starts. His K rate ranked in the 76th per­centile for all MLB pitch­ers.

His spin rate — which adds greater de­cep­tion to pitches — on the four-seam fast­ball was 19th in base­ball last sea­son among starters with at least 400 pitches. His av­er­age rpm of 2,365 ranked slightly higher than Cy Young win­ners Ja­cob deGrom and Blake Snell. The league-av­er­age spin rate is roughly 2,200 rpm, per MLB Stat­cast.

Smith is bat­tling with six other pitch­ers — Jose Urena, Dan Straily, Sandy Al­can­tara, Trevor Richards and Wei-Yin Chen — for five spots in the ro­ta­tion. Urena has been named the team’s Open­ing Day starter against the Colorado Rock­ies on Mar. 28.

With the team’s start­ing pitch­ing depth, Smith could open the sea­son in Triple-A New Or­leans as a way to ease him back this sea­son.

Mi­ami ac­quired Smith, along with out­fielder/first base­man Gar­rett Cooper, from the New York Yankees

fol­low­ing the 2017 sea­son. Mi­ami sent righthander Michael King and in­ter­na­tional bonus pool money to New York in ex­change for the play­ers.

The Texas na­tive started last sea­son in the Mar­lins start­ing ro­ta­tion, im­press­ing from the get-go. Smith struck out eight bat­ters in his sea­son de­but and notched at least seven K’s in four of his first six starts.

His swing-and-miss rate was among the best for left-handed starters with 49.2 per­cent of his fourseam­ers whiffs — seventh best in base­ball. Of his slid­ers, 33 per­cent were swings-and-misses — 11th best and higher than Snell and Dal­las Keuchel.

“[His stuff ] is in the up­per-tier for the guys with swing-and-miss stuff,” Mat­tingly said ear­lier this spring. “So Caleb has a chance to con­tinue to grow, con­tinue to get bet­ter. I think the more con­fi­dence and com­fort­able he gets, the bet­ter he’ll be.”

JOHN MCCALL/SUN SEN­TINEL

Mar­lins pitcher Caleb Smith is set to make his spring train­ing de­but Wed­nes­day.

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