Smith to make spring debut on Wednesday
Lefty on target, ready to make his pitch for a spot in rotation
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.”
Marlins pitcher Caleb Smith is set to make his spring training debut Wednesday.