Smith holds Braves scoreless in relief debut

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Former Northgate lefthander Will Smith pitched an inning of scoreless relief against the Braves in his return to the major leagues on Tuesday.

Will Smith is enjoying his new role as a reliever. Of course, it probably helps since that is what got one-time Northgate High ace pitcher recalled from Triple-A Omaha on Tuesday.

”It feels good to get back here,” said the Newnan native. “I had to go down there and get some things straight to get back up here, so it feels good to be pitching good and get back up here.”

Smith, a 23-year-old who was acquired from the Angels in 2010, started 10 games earlier in the Minor League season, but switched to the bullpen for his last seven games. He recorded his first professional save last Friday in Omaha’s 7-6 victory against Albuquerque.

The former Vikings standout was called up by Kansas City on Tuesday to replace a struggling Kelvin Herrera in the Royals bullpen while giving the team an additional lefty in relief. 

He didn’t waste any time getting reacquainted with major league hitters and made his relief debut in the big leagues in the top of the ninth in Tuesday’s game against the Braves while trying to hold on to a 4-3 deficit. Smith plunked Jason Heyward on the elbow on a night where the Braves outfielder went 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs, but managed to induce a double-play grounder out of Justin Upton to get out of the inning.

Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel finished out the victory despite allowing runners on first and third with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. Kimbrel allowed a single to David Lough and letting him swipe second base to put the go-ahead run in scoring position with nobody out.

Kimbrel recovered to strike out Elliot Johnson and Jarrod Dyson, and then intentionally walked Alex Gordon to load the bases for Alcides Escobar. He flied out to right on the first pitch he saw to end the game, giving Kimbrel his 11th straight save and 22nd of the season.

Heyward drove in a pair of runs with a double in the fifth, and then broke a seventh-inning tie with his solo shot off Tim Collins (2-2). It was his sixth homer of the season.

Of the three batters Smith faced in the ninth, he got ahead of two with first-pitch strikes. 

It’s fun, because I get to come in for one inning and pitch as hard as I can,” Smith told MLB.com. “I miss the routine part of the start and the preparing and all that stuff, so it is still a transition.”

Smith -- who was recalled when reliever Kelvin Herrera was optioned to Omaha -- joins Tim Collins and Bruce Chen as lefty options in the ‘pen. When he arrived with the Royals last May for his major league debut, Smith told the Newnan Times-Herald that Chen had been a big influence on his transition to the big leagues. 

“He’s been throwing the ball extremely well down there and he’s like Timmy, he’s more than a situational lefty, guys that can get righties out, too,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Smith on MLB.com. “His stuff has jumped up since he’s gone to the ‘pen, and I’m anxious to see what he can provide.”

Smith started one game for the Royals on April 28, allowing seven hits and six runs (four earned) with five strikeouts in four innings in a loss to the Indians. At Omaha, he was 4-3 as a starter with a 3.26 ERA and went 1-0 with a 0.84 ERA in his seven relief appearances, allowing six hits and one run in 10 2/3 innings.

”I’m not saying that long-term he’s not going to go back to being a starter, but right now he’s going to be a benefit to us out in the ‘pen,” Yost said.

It was Atlanta’s first visit to Kauffman Stadium. Kris Medlen (5-7) held on to the victory to improve his record to 4-1 in June. 

Chris Johnson led off the fifth with a double, and Andrelton Simmons put runners on the corners with his base hit. Jordan Schafer tied the game 1-all on his double, and Heyward’s double down the right-field line gave the Braves a 3-1 lead.

<\z14f”sans-serif”>NOTES: Recently Smith and his Omaha Stormchaser teammates made a trip to help with the cleanup from deadly tornadoes that hit Moore, Okla., with the lefty calling it “an eye-opening experience,” on his Twitter account. “Really puts things in perspective,” he wrote.

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