Although the Blue Jays stand at 7 games under.500 going into Saturday night’s game, set-up man Joe Smith has quietly proven himself to be an integral component in delivering precious wins. What can we attribute to the journeyman sidewinder’s success?
A contributing factor might be one proffered during a broadcast by analyst Buck Martinez and colour commentator Pat Tabler: apparently pitching coach Pete Walker had been asking for such a pitcher to be added to the bullpen too, at the very least, give batters a different look to acclimate to later in ballgames. That kind of belief in your abilities by no-less than the pitching coach has to have had a positive impact on Smith’s pitching.
Taking a look at Smith’s numbers he’s far exceeded club expectations one would think and can be found all over the back end of wins. Going into Saturday’s game, he has tallied 5 holds so far on the young season.
He has accomplished that number while also posting a dominant 30 K’s over 20.2 innings pitched. To put that in perspective, he’s only 10 strikeouts away from his entire 2016 season total of 40 K’s, accomplished over a span of 52 innings, almost 30 more innings of work.
Having a strike-out machine for a set-up man provides a perfect 1-2 punch with closer Roberto Osuna, and invariably ensures 2-innings of lockdown ball, preserving leads on most nights, providing they are taking a lead into the 8th frame, Smith’s sovereign domain now.
The club is fortunate to have such a hurler, healthy (knock on wood) and contributing quite frankly at an elite level. Smith’s success is timely, as concurrently, sadly we’ve been witnessing the precipitous decline of opening-day set-up man Jason Grilli, who now in his 40s, might not have as much in the tank as, say, when he was Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle’s go-to guy for the 9th, during his tenure with Pittsburgh.
Now that Grilli will presumably be switched to low leverage situations once again, after failing to preserve Friday night’s extra-inning game in spectacular fashion, allowing a walk-off home run (bringing his record to 1-4), coupled with Joe Biagini currently entrenched in the rotation, the club should consider themselves especially relieved by Joe Smith’s presence down there in the ‘pen alongside Osuna.
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From a fan perspective, besides watching Smith make easy work of his 8th inning-appearances, it’s fun to watch a pitcher with such an unorthodox delivery, and for fans of a certain age, inevitably bring back fond memories of former Jays’ bullpen stalwart Mark Eichhorn.
The only detraction one might have from Smith’s game is actually not his fault at all: on more than one occasion an umpire has seemingly had difficulty seeing/reading Smith’s pitches because of the unusual path his offerings take to the plate, at the ire of Jays fans no doubt, left gnashing their teeth at the television set as Smith continues to pound the zone from unusual angles.
Joe Smith has provided a nice tandem at the back of the pen with resident ice-man Roberto Osuna. Those two, backed by a strong supporting cast, comprised of the likes of Danny Barnes and Kevin Tepera, has resulted in a bullpen that has been contributing exemplary work on the whole to date.
If the Jays can work themselves to .500 ball or more, one would think it would be incumbent on the front office to capitulate to the on-field success of the team and add to an already sturdy bullpen, as they did last year during the stretch by acquiring Joaquin Benoit.