Angels set-up Joe Smith wants the eighth inning all to himself
Joe Smith can be feisty, a trait you want in a reliever with a lively but not overpowering 88-mph fastball. An attack mentality, a refusal to give in to hitters and an unwavering confidence in his stuff have helped mold the sidearm-throwing right-hander into one of baseball’s best set-up men.
So it was no surprise when Smith bristled at a suggestion that, in the wake of two straight outings in which he was roughed up by left-handed hitters, the Angels consider using left-hander Cesar Ramos at times in the eighth inning.
“My job is to pitch the eighth — that’s why they paid me to come here,” Smith said before Wednesday night’s 4-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Anaheim, a game that Johnny Giavotella won with a walk-off, run-scoring double in the ninth inning.
“I thought I earned it last year. I thought I proved I could do it, no matter if it’s left or right.
“It’s nice having two lefties in our bullpen who can get lefties out. But they brought me here to lock down the eighth inning. I haven’t gotten the job done the last couple of times. It stinks. But I will. I will start getting lefties out again.”
Smith got right to work on that pledge during a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday night, retiring the left-handed-hitting Brad Miller (fly to left) and Seth Smith (strikeout looking) and hitting Robinson Cano with a pitch.
Smith got Nelson Cruz to ground into an inning-ending fielder’s choice to preserve a 3-2 lead, but closer Huston Street suffered his first blown save of the season when he allowed the tying run in the top of the ninth.
Smith, in the second year of a three-year, $15.75-million contract, went 7-2 with a 1.81 earned-run average in 76 games last season, holding left-handers to a .206 average. He has held left-handers to a .240 average over his nine-year MLB career.
But lefties were hitting .370 (10 for 27) against him before Wednesday, a figure skewed by the three hits — Cano double, Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison singles — he gave up in a three-run eighth Tuesday night.
Smith also gave up a game-winning RBI single to left-handed-hitting Joe Panik in Friday night’s 3-2 loss in San Francisco. Ramos held lefties to a .158 (three for 19) mark entering Wednesday.
“I try to go inside and miss over the plate,” Smith said. “It opens up the outer half for them. But I’m not worried. I feel good. Little tweaks here or there, and I’m going to go on a run. I know it’s coming. I’m going to help this team win.”
Manager Mike Scioscia is not ready to scrap the late-inning formula that has worked so well for the Angels since last July — Smith in the eighth and Street in the ninth.
“There are going to be innings where we’ll match up,” Scioscia said, “but our bullpen will be light years better if we can get Joe comfortable in the eighth, which he was last year, and have Huston in the ninth.”
Would Scioscia consider using Ramos in a situation such as Tuesday’s, when the dangerous Cano led off the eighth?
“I don’t think so,” Scioscia said. “If it really became an issue where Joe’s confidence was wavering, you would look to take a little pressure off him. But we’re not at that point yet.”
Smith has also yielded a .263 average (five for 19) to right-handers, and overall, he has yielded a .441 average (15 for 46) on balls in play, a huge jump from his career average of .271.
“They’re hitting them where people aren’t,” Smith said. “It’s annoying. But eventually they’ll start mis-hitting them.”
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