Tucson Padres: 'Frustrating' trip to the bigs

Smith in Tucson after struggling with pitch location
2013-05-26T00:00:00Z Tucson Padres: 'Frustrating' trip to the bigsZack Rosenblatt Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

When Burch Smith stepped onto the mound at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., before a half-capacity crowd of 18,587, emotions were flying around faster than the 100 mph fastball he'd been hurling at Double-A hitters for the last month.

It was May 11, and it was his first start in the majors.

The first batter was Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce.

"It was a little bit of everything," Smith said before the Tucson Padres game against the Sacramento River Cats on Saturday. "It was excitement, it was nervousness, everything. Some doubt creeping into your mind, and just a little bit of everything."

The first pitch was a strike, looking. Eight pitches later, Joyce struck out swinging.

Smith said that first out calmed him down.

He followed that up by striking out Kelly Johnson on four pitches and getting Ben Zobrist to ground out.

A 1-2-3 inning certainly isn't the worst way to start a major league stint.

What happened next might have been, though.

He opened the second inning with a walk, and then the wheels fell off.

James Loney blasted a two-run shot to right field, Smith walked another batter and then gave up three more singles before being taken out. He didn't record an out that inning and was touched up for six earned runs.

"It was frustrating," Smith said. "I wasn't able to execute pitches."

His next outing, against the Washington Nationals, was certainly better. Smith lasted 5 1/3 innings and struck out eight batters, albeit while allowing five earned runs and three home runs.

Smith's third and final start came against the St. Louis Cardinals. He gave up five hits, four earned runs and walked three by the time he was replaced in the second inning.

The next day, Smith was demoted to Triple-A Tucson, where he will pitch for the first time against the Fresno Grizzlies on Tuesday at Kino Stadium.

"Everybody knows he's coming with the fastball," said Tucson Padres pitching coach Bronswell Patrick, who previously coached Smith at High-A Lake Elsinore. "So it's a situation where he left fastballs over the plate. Once you get to the big leagues, guys don't miss those pitches, they do what they're supposed to do with them when you make a mistake."

Smith's stat line through his first three career MLB games: 0-1 record, 18.41 ERA, 16 hits, 15 earned runs, four home runs, six walks and 11 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.

That's a far cry from the 1.15 ERA and 37 strikeouts he had in 31 1/3 innings for the Double-A San Antonio Missions before his major- league call-up.

So when Smith arrived in Tucson on Friday, Patrick took him aside.

"He's a great kid," Patrick said. "He has a lot of confidence and that's what you need when you're pitching. So I told him, 'Hey you're down here to work on some stuff, we all know your fastball is there, you just gotta maintain that velocity and make quality pitches when you're ahead in the count.'

"He's a guy that's going to bounce back," Patrick added. "And you'll see him back in the big leagues."

Contact reporter Zack Rosenblatt at zrosenblatt@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @zackblatt.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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