Smith Turning A Corner

TRENTON, NJ - Starting this season, left-hander Caleb Smith struggled mightily early on, having only one start in his first five in which he allowed less than three earned runs. His ERA after those five starts was at an atrocious 7.71 with a 1.88 WHIP, and opposing batters had a combined batting average of .329. Since then, however, he has turned the corner.

Smith was having issues with his fastball command during that early period but Trenton Thunder pitching coach Jose Rosado thinks that it may have been due to the fact that he hasn’t been feeling physically right at the start of the season.

“One thing you need to remember is that when he first started, he got hurt,” Rosado revealed. “He was having some soreness in his hand and he pitched with that for two or three outings and he wasn’t comfortable. Now that he does feel comfortable, whenever he pitches, he doesn’t even think about that.”

According to the coaches, Smith not being 100 percent got in the way of how he handled his starts which makes sense considering he couldn’t get to the fourth inning in two of his first five starts. His fastball command may have been affected because of his issues with his hand.

Whether it was the control, or lack thereof, of his pitches, playing hurt for the beginning portion of the season, or any other reason, the coaching staff knew that he had to work on his fastball. According to Thunder manager Al Pedrique, Smith has been working on his fastball angle to make it a more effective pitch and so far it has been working well for him lately.

“I think he’s created a good angle on his fastball down in the zone, being able to keep the fastball down,” Pedrique said. “His fastball is straight in my opinion.

"If he elevates that fastball, he’s going to get hit pretty hard and I think that’s where he made the adjustment in this last start, keeping the ball down, working on both sides of the plate and then he uses his breaking stuff with more confidence. Throwing the breaking pitches and changeups in fastball counts was another thing he did well.”

Smith thinks that the change of his fastball has produced positive results for him. Once he got his confidence in his stuff back and was 100 percent healthy, he has been a solid pitcher for the Thunder. His rediscovered fastball is a big reason why.

“It was just a matter of getting a feel for it,” Smith said. “I don’t feel like the competition has changed really from different levels. I’ve just been a little more patient, but I feel like I kind of got away from what I did. I would be able to get to two strikes but not been able to get the out. I was out of the zone with my two-seam, and we changed it to a four-seam and I think it helped me out a lot.”

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly did Smith started using the four-seam fastball more, but it can be inferred his positive productivity happened possibly after his fifth start with the Thunder. Since that start, he has dropped his ERA from 7.71 as mentioned earlier to 4.08, posting a 2.58 ERA over his last eight starts.

But he doesn’t just have a fastball that can go as high as 95 mph, although he typically throws at around 89-93 mph. He has a changeup that Rosado calls a plus pitch, a slider and a curveball that carries a good amount of movement.

Another thing to look at Smith is that his workload has increased from his first six starts to his following six. He has pitched no less than five innings pitch in a start in his last seven starts and has already pitched more than six innings twice in that span, something he had never done in his entire Minor League career.

His latest home start on June 16th saw his progress come to fruition, despite what the final stat line said about him. He struggled in the first inning and threw more than 30 pitches. But he stayed collected and delivered a tremendous five next innings where it took him no more than 12 pitches in every inning.

He then struggled in the seventh and was ultimately taken out, but Pedrique and Rosado saw a lot of good in that start. He believes that the way he has rebounded from his early season struggles is going to be a positive for him and the team.

“This time, he was more aggressive and ahead of the count,” Pedrique said. “He was committed to go out and give a good outing which he did. He kept us in the game, gave us a chance and I thought he was much better that night working the count, using all of his pitches effectively.

"I thought his breaking ball was well in his last few outings by him. We were very pleased and think that he can be a very good pitcher for us moving forward.”

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