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Matt Smith, selected by the New York Yankees in the 4th round of the 2000 draft, has progressed nicely in this, his seventh season, and is poised to be a consistent contributor in the Yankee bullpen. Splitting time between Trenton and Columbus, Smith posted a 2.73 ERA in 82.1 IP, limiting left handed hitters to a .163 batting average (15-92) in 2005.
Many thoughts can go through a player's mind when being sent to the minors after playing in the major leagues for an extended period of time. Smith gives the impression that his Triple-A assignment to Columbus is more of an opportunity than anything else. He believes refining his game could land him in New York a lot longer than his previous 17-day span.
Smith told PinstripesPlus.com, "The biggest thing I'm working on is my slider. I don't think it's really as good as it could be. I think what I just need to do is get more innings, more outings and become more comfortable."
Smith is the type of pitcher who possesses the ability to fill the role of both a left-handed specialist as well as a full-fledged setup man. As dominant as he has been facing left-handed hitters, a constant focus on them may be the best scenario as success in the major leagues is the same no matter how many batters in a game, or even an inning, he may face.
Smith reiterates that he will follow all orders in order to help the club. With a Yankee bullpen that has struggled at times to bridge the gap to closer Mariano Rivera, he may find himself back in the mix in New York.
When you're a pitcher working your way up from the minor leagues, staying sharp is a key ingredient when hoping to stay afloat a big leagues roster. Smith highlights the fact that he must be ready to pitch at all times because when you're in middle relief, there will be instances when you pitch on back to back days and other occurrences where it may be a week in between appearances.
"I remember my first two outings were two days apart and then my next outing was about nine or ten and that was a little bit different to get used to," said Smith.
The struggle to adapt to the Major League atmosphere has haunted many minor league pitchers in the past. There are numerous lessons that can be learned for a pitcher such as Smith by just being around the big league ball club.
"I had a lot of opportunities to just hang out with guys. I've basically learned how to be a professional and deal with the other aspects such as the media and the fans. It's something you really can't prepare for and it's something you just have to go through," said Smith.
Ron Villone and Randy Myers are two relievers that have had a significant impact on Smith, both being fellow southpaws. They gel into the same type of niche within the Yankee pitching staff that Smith may very well soon be accustomed to again.
Clippers pitching coach Neil Allen believes Smith is right where he needs to and as long as he keeps recording outs, may be receiving a phone call from the Bronx very shortly. The recent demotion to Columbus may very well have been a result of a lack of innings during his time with the Yankees.
"He (Smith) only got two innings in 17 days and he kind of lost his release point and wasn't as sharp. Now, the last couple outings he's staring to look like the old Matt. He's throwing his slider for strikes and he's staying back good," said Allen.
Smith realizes that his performances in Columbus will be what determine an additional promotion to New York. With big league experience already under his belt, a shift to the majors may not be nearly as tough after all he has learned with his first go around.
"I think once you start looking at the bigger picture, it gets you into trouble. The only thing I can control is what I do here. The biggest thing is to stay sharp. It's a long year and I'm just happy to be where I'm at," said Smith.
It would not be shocking to see a pitcher like Smith become a positive contributor to the Yankee bullpen by season's end. With what Aaron Small and Chien-Ming Wang brought to the staff in 2005, Smith has a chance to provide quite an encore as the season progresses in 2006.
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Smith Is Just Getting Some More Innings
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