Spring Q&A with RHP Joe Smith

The sidearmed middle reliever pitched more innings than ever before in 2006. After a strong showing in Brooklyn, he was elevated to Binghamton where he endured a rocky tenure. Now Joe Smith hopes to reaffirm the progress he showed after he arrived from Wright State as a third round pick.

Inside Pitch Magazine: What was your winter like?

Joe Smith: Winter was nice. I didn't do much; they didn't really want me to do anything since I pitched so much last year. I took a month and a half off from everything. Then in November and December I got running and starting throwing and went on from there.

Inside Pitch: What in your repertoire has progressed and what do you continue to struggle with?

Smith: This whole winter I worked on my pitches hitting both sides of the plate. My problem last year was that I was only hitting the right side of the plate. Now, I've got a lot better and I can move to the ball to both sides of the plate.

Inside Pitch: What have the coaches focused on with you?

Smith They stress keeping the ball down in the zone and throw strikes. They want me to go out there, get ground balls and let the defense work. The guys I've got behind me are real good and now how to play.

Inside Pitch: What did teaching in Binghamton last year teach you?

Smith: It doesn't matter if you throw 86 or 94, if you get up in the zone they are going to hit it. Again, as you keep moving up you have to be able to hit both sides of the plate. At that level you have to able to do it and I couldn't. I had a good start and than I struggled, I was all over the place and couldn't hit my spots and throw strikes consistently.

Inside Pitch: How did you recover physically after a year in which you pitched more than ever before? How are you getting ready for another long haul?

Smith: In terms of recovery they just have to gear down and get some rest. I didn't even pick up a ball from the beginning of September until the beginning of December. I really just gave my arm and my body a break. I stopped lifting for a month and half. Come January I really kicked it into high gear. I think I'll be alright this year. I don't think I'll break down as easily.

Last year I added up 80-something innings, for a guy how I'm going to be used, at whatever level, if I get to 80 innings again, I'll be amazed. I talked to a few guys they said I'll probably get to 60-70 innings. At around 75 innings last year is when I started to wear down.

Inside Pitch: What have you picked up from being around the big leaguers?

Smith: Everyday I'm talking to somebody whether it's the mental or physical side. I talked to Pedro Feliciano to see how he handles left-on-left and I try to take that to right-on-right. I try to pick guys' brain. There is so much experience in our clubhouse I would stupid to not take advantage of it. It's a great learning things and taking what I learn into my own game.

Inside Pitch: What kind of pitcher do you want to be?

Smith: I want to be a guy that can be stopper. I want to be that guy can come in with a man on second and third, one out, or first and second, one out, and the coach says "go get a groundball and get us out of the inning". I want to come in and not let those guys on base score. Coming in a big game situation and being relied on to get your team back in the game is a great feeling.

Inside Pitch: Does the middle relief / set up role suit you for the future?

Smith: I just want to get to the big leagues. If they want me there as a righty specialist, as a longer relief guy, whatever, I just want to get there. I may get picky after a few years but for now I just want to get there.

Inside Pitch: Tell us a little more about your arsenal.

Smith: Some days my changeup is there, other days I don't know what the heck is going on. For the most part it's there, now it's getting it consistent and throwing it for strikes. Everything else is going well. I'm rotating the ball well. I've backed off my fastball a little for the sake of better location and that's helped me tremendously. My slider is there.

My confidence level is much higher with those pitches and I feel I can throw them in any count, any situation. Now it's my changeup that I have to get to that level. As soon as I can do that, it's about how many strikes can I throw and making guys beat the ball into the ground.

Inside Pitch: Are the comparisons to Chad Bradford fair?

Smith: No, I'm not a Chad Bradford right now. He's probably the game's best side arm guy. He's done an amazing job with the Mets. The time I've spent with him has been great. I've talked to Paul LoDuca about (Bradford's) strategies to see if I can put a little of what he does into my game. If I can be compared to him one day that will be a good sign that I've done a pretty good job.

Inside Pitch: What do you hope to achieve in 2007?

Smith: To be honest, it's do everything I can in my power to not let them send me down. I can't control where they are going to send me, but I can make it a very hard decision for them. If they feel I need more time in the minor leagues to develop some more, alright, then I'll go to the minor leagues to work and do what I can to get back up. They've been honest with me. When they feel I'm ready, I'm confident they'll give me the call. It's a matter of showing them I can perform day in, day out.

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