Week Stats: 3 G, 3.0 IP, 3 SV, 10 TBF, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 2 K
What gives Angels relief pitcher Joe Smith such a serene comportment? Is it the knowledge that no one has or will ever get his name wrong? Is it a natural byproduct of a career 2.96 ERA across seven-plus seasons? Whatever the cause, that serene stability is just what the Angels needed to boost them over .500 for the first time in over a year. Smith’s three saves last week were absolutely crucial for a team whose shaky bullpen has become an internet punchline. And although the Angels have dropped back to an even record, Smith did everything he could to get them over that hump this week. Now, according to Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register, Smith is already in danger of losing his interim gig as closer, through no fault of his own. Looks like he’ll need every bit of serenity he has to work under manager Mike Scioscia.
“Our optimum bullpen is really with Ernie back in the ninth inning and being able to move Joe Smith around,” Scioscia is quoted saying in Moura’s article. I think what he means is that, in an optimal bullpen, Joe Smith would pitch well and Ernesto Frieri would pitch even better. After all, Frieri’s career ERA is one point better than Smith’s at 2.95. That plus Frieri’s history as a closer plus his superior velocity make him a more conventional fit for this conventional job. Smith, with his sidearm delivery, sits around 90 mph with his fastball, and relies, as most sidearmers do, on getting groundballs. Scioscia might be onto something when he says he wants to move Smith around. Smith’s groundball tendency could be leveraged in tight spots, when the previous pitcher has left runners on base and a double play would be ideal. Putting him in at the start of the ninth (or any inning for that matter) prevents the sort of quick-escape a well-placed grounder could provide. It’s just too bad for Smith that firemen don’t get paid like closers.
Perhaps Scioscia is a little hasty in his return to Frieri, and too sluggish when it was time to remove Frieri in the first place. All that is outside Joe Smith’s control. He was paid fair money over three years to bolster the Angels bullpen. For a time he was one of the primary men carrying it. Now after a brief turn in the spotlight he will melt back into the middle-inning obscurity that befits a man named Joe Smith.