SHANKS: So you started a handful of games last year and now you're a full-time starter. How do you feel about that?
SMITH: I'm excited. I can't wait. I'd like to get innings and just the opportunity to get five or six innings instead of one at a time. I kind of like that.
SHANKS: You had a funny year last year, didn't you? It was kind of weird.
SMITH: Yeah. I kind of struggled my first two times out in the pen up in Double-A. I was rough. I didn't throw strikes and wasn't locating the ball. Then I figured it out a little bit and started doing well. Then somebody got moved up to Triple-A and I started. From there I just kind of got in a groove I guess you could say.
SHANKS: Those struggles you had were really the first struggles of your career, right? You've never really struggled like that before.
SMITH: It was tough. I think my first outing in Double-A I think I gave up a three-run homer. It was a bomb too. I just had to realize I was up there for a reason and I could pitch there. I just slowly got my confidence back. That was the main thing.
SHANKS: Do you think that jump from Myrtle to Double-A is the toughest transition?
SMITH: It definitely is. You can't think about it. I found myself thinking about whether I should be there or not. So I just kind of tried to forget about it and went after it. But it can be a big jump, both mentally and physically.
SHANKS: When they came to you about starting late last year, what did you think?
SMITH: I've been wanting to start the whole way. So when they said that I loved it. Then when I came to spring training they got me there early with the starters. I'm just excited. I've always started, just like pretty much every guy here.
SHANKS: So before you signed with the Braves you had started in high school?
SMITH: Starter all the time.
SHANKS: Is it easy to get back into that mindset of being a starter?
SMITH: I just went after it. Talking about preparing, when you know it's your day to pitch and you're going out there to pitch, but in the bullpen you've got to go. I can do it (the bullpen) and I like doing it, but I'd rather start the rest of my minor league career and if I get to the big leagues reliever or starter, it doesn't matter.
SHANKS: And I guess you would have showed them that you can do both and have been successful at both?
SMITH: Right. Very true.
SHANKS: Where did all those strikeouts come from when you started? You had always had a lot of strikeouts, but those totals as a starter were nuts.
SMITH: I had always thought if I got a chance to throw more innings that I could get more into a groove and really be able to get after the hitters. Set them up the first time through, then next time a totally different sequence of pitches. So I really wasn't shocked. I knew that I could do that, but it was just getting the opportunity to do it and taking advantage of it.
SHANKS: So what were you getting all those strikeouts with? What pitch?
SMITH: My fastball. Just throwing and locating it well and mixing in that changeup. I started working on a slider that KW (Kent Willis) started working with me on. It was rough. I'd throw four or five an outing and the rest would just be fastball, changeup. I just located it.
SHANKS: When you are a reliever you can come out and just chunk it, throw it as hard as you can. So you really have to be a pitcher now, don't you?
SMITH: Definitely. Coming in as a reliever you can come in and show them all your pitches. You've got to get them out. Your job is to get them out. I sometimes go through the first time the lineup and try not to throw an offspeed pitch and try to get them out on fastballs and maybe a couple of changeups. Then they are kind of expecting a fastball. It's more of a chess match as a starter. As a reliever you're coming in and just seeing if they can hit your pitches. So I like them both. I really do.
SHANKS: If you get to the big leagues as a starter, this is going to be one heck of a story considering what happened to you your senior year, signing with the Braves after the draft, etc. And then not many start as a reliever and then make the switch like this this late. Does that excite you to even think about where you've come from in your career and how close you are now?
SMITH: It's tough to become a name as a middle relief guy unless you're a closer that throws 100 miles an hour, which I won't do obviously. But I would love to be a starter in the major leagues. You can kind of establish yourself. It's just exciting to think about.
SHANKS: Now how hard have you thrown as a reliever?
SMITH: If I was feeling really good, it was 90-91. I think I hit 94 out of the pen a couple of times. As a starter, I'm 88-91 touching 93, 94. Sometimes I throw my fastball and I'll look back at the board and it'll say 87 and the guy swung through it like it was 100 mph. I just can't figure it out.
SHANKS: How much does Chuckie James' success, as someone who doesn't throw very hard, do for the rest of you that can't throw 95 mph? Has he proven that you don't have to throw hard to be successful? Is he an example for that?
SMITH: It is. I tell the younger guys that signed last year that it doesn't matter how hard you throw. You can be successful throwing 86-88 miles an hour just locating your pitches. You see Chuck, and Jamie Moyer is a great example too. He doesn't even break 85. And Chuck did that the whole way up through the minors. I think now the younger guys come to me now and I tell them it's all about location, not velocity. And for whatever reason, right-handers do have to throw a bit harder to be successful. But for the lefties, it's just something that allows you to be successful without throwing that fast. You see Chuck and you know it obviously doesn't matter if you throw that hard.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, 105.5 the Fan in Macon, and the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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