Matt Smith Makes Move to the Bullpen

Arm trouble has plagued Matt Smith's career over the past two seasons and this could be the turning point of his career. The 25-year old is making a transition to the bullpen this year after being a starter his last two years in Trenton. The change will hopefully have him pitching less innings and putting less stress on his injury-prone arm. Smith has pitched six innings so far this season and believes that the bullpen move is the best for his career.

After pitching two and one third shutout innings against Altoona, Smith said "I felt pretty good. This is probably the first time in two years where I've just had normal soreness." He described the change from starting to relieving as slightly more difficult but said he just has to "be smart." Smith is generally positive about the change saying, "The change has helped. Not pitching as many innings has worked well and I'm feeling good."

Feeling good is the key for Smith as he attempts to open some eyes in the Yankees organization. When describing his goals for the year, Smith puts his health right at the top. Said Smith, "First and foremost, stay healthy. If I can have a good year, it would be to stay off the DL." He went on to say that, "The goal of any pitcher is to move up. The only thing I can control is to throw well and the rest of the stuff is someone's else's decision."

He does admit that it is a vastly different mental approach to pitching in the bullpen than when he was a starter.

"When you're a starter, you have to wait till the fifth day and then put your game face on. It's a different mindset in that you always have to be ready to answer the call. Ready for the one opportunity every day." said Smith.

The new role seems to have grown on the fourth round pick in 2000 out of Oklahoma State as he has yet to give up an earned run in his first six innings of work this season. Smith doesn't care what role he plays on the team so long as he is getting his work in and contributing to the team's success. He also doesn't seem to mind the different atmosphere created by Billy Masse and the fact that Masse has yet to come up with definite roles for most of the guys in the bullpen.

"I just prefer to pitch. said Smith, "This is the first time in my career I've ever come out of the bullpen so I really don't know what to expect. So long as I'm pitching innings and building arm strength, I don't care." Having a pitcher with this kind of attitude and this kind of effectiveness with Justin Pope closing out games, the Thunder could have a very effective back end of the bullpen.

Smith, who played the last three seasons under former Thunder skipper Stump Merrill, said that they were both good skippers who understood the game. "Stump was a little more laid back because he had been in the Major Leagues and been there before. This coaching staff is really good and they are very upbeat. I think this coaching staff really wants to prove they belong here and they do."

If Smith can put a good year together and stay healthy, he can set the stage for a promotion to Columbus to start next year and maybe a call to the big leagues since he has a left-handed pitcher who can get lefties and righties out on a consistent basis.

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