Smith comfortable with new surroundings with Brewers after whirlwind year
by Chris Goltermann
Two questions seem to follow Will Smith wherever he goes now on the baseball field, one of which will never cease - as least as long as the one in Hollywood keeps making blockbuster movies. But the left-hander from Newnan that now pitches for the Milwaukee Brewers is hoping to quickly settle into a role wi t h t h e team that avoids the media from asking another persistent question that carr i e d wi t h him throughout a successful 2013 season with the Ka nsas City Royals.
That is, whether Smith prefers starting or relieving better in the major leagues, having now done both over the first two years of his major league career.
'I prefer to be in the big leagues,' he said in a recent radio interview with a local Milwaukee station. 'Last year was a whirlwind year. I was up and down [in the majors] seven times. So this year, you learn, you can't take anything for granted. If they want you to start, you start. If they want you to be in the pen, be in the pen. I don't have a preference. I just want to be in Milwaukee.'
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound 24-year-old made a seamless transition into a relief role despite starting since his days at Northgate High for Vikings head coach Greg Hamilton.
In 19 appearances last year with the Royals, all but one in relief, Smith posted a 2-1 record with a 3.24 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. He walked just seven batters over the span.
That success has carried over into spring training. In his first nine relief appearances with Milwaukee, Smith is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA, striking out 13 in 12 innings. He's equally slimmed down in numbers - trading his No. 53 jersey in Kansas City for No. 13 with Milwaukee.
Manager Ron Roenicke has been impressed with what he's seen, remarking in one Milwaukee television interview, 'If you go down and watch his bullpen, it's incredible. His fastball is down in the zone with life on it. Great breaking ball. He's got that bulldog kind of attitude - big, physical guy. He goes hard in all of our workouts and our rotations. He talks a little bit, so I think he's getting more comfortable,' Two of his three earned runs allowed came off a home run against Seattle on March 19.
'So far so good. [I'm] feeling good, happy with the results,' he said. 'I'm ready to start the season.'
It begins Monday at Miller Park against Smith's hometown Braves. He got a chance to face Atlanta last year in the franchise's first trip to Kansas City, pitching an inning of scoreless relief on the day he arrived back from Triple-A Omaha.
'Last year I was more comfortable starting, just because the bullpen thing was so new to me,' Smith said. 'But by the end of the year, they both felt fine. If [the Royals] had told me to go back to the rotation, that would have been fine. But I had success coming out of the pen.'
Acquired in a trade for outfielder Norichika Aoki with the Royals in need of a leadoff hitter, Smith may have been initially looked at as someone who could help the Brewers starting rotation. But in dire need of left-handers, especially out of the bullpen (137 _ of the team's 1,200 innings came from lefties in 2013), relief may be where Smith is needed most.
Much like veteran pitcher and former Braves player Bruce Chen helped with mentoring Smith last year in Kansas City, the Newnan native has looked upon veteran starter Kyle Losch the same way in Milwaukee during the Cactus League schedule in Arizona.
'Why not follow that guy around and pick his brain. He obviously knows what he's doing,' he said. 'Just little things that come up. Especially me never being in the National League before.'
In a deep Central division led by St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati - all of which won over 90 games in 2013 - the Brewers will open the season well off the radar. That doesn't bother Smith.
'I think we have a good team top to bottom,' he said. 'Our starting rotation is unreal and our pen's going to be good too. So you know, who cares if we're not all over the publicity [about the division]. We'll go out and do our job and that's all right.'