Kyle Smith is not physically imposing when he toes the Frawley Stadium rubber. He stands just 5-feet-11-inches tall and weighs a mere 172 pounds, but don't let his slim build fool you. Smith throws hard and misses bats as often as any pitcher in the Kansas City system. Through his first three starts of the 2013 campaign, the right-hander had 21 strikeouts in only 14.1 innings pitched. He held the opponent without a run in two of those three outings.
His only issue was a lack of pitch efficiency, which was shortening his outings. So Smith decided to pitch to more contact, focusing on keeping the ball down and hitting his locations. The result has been three straight starts lasting six innings. On Tuesday he held the Potomac Nationals to just two hits and nary a run in six frames to earn his first win of the season.
“Kyle Smith not only kept us in it, but kept them off balance,” said Blue Rocks manager Vance Wilson after his team’s 4-1 victory. “They couldn’t get any rallies going. He kept guys off base and stayed ahead in the count. He was spotting his fastball, and he was able to put them away with his curveball.”
Smith does it with his mind as much as the power of his arm.
He may only throw in the low-90's, but he sets batters up, so it seems like he is throwing even harder than he actually is. The Boynton Beach, FL native also has enough command with his curveball and changeup to be able to pitch in reverse. The result is an off-balance hitter, and more often than not, a favorable early count for Smith. The Royals recognized that last season when they promoted him from Rookie Ball to Low-A in just one start.
"Excitement and Speechlessness," was how Smith described his reaction to that move. “To find out I got the call-up after just one start in Idaho, I was a little kid playing baseball again. I was all smiles."
Coming into spring training it was still up in the air where Smith would wind up in 2013, but the pitcher figured he would set his sights high. "I thought the chances of me coming up here were pretty slim,” Smith admitted. “So I tried to battle in spring training and hoped for the best. [Now that I'm here] I like it so far. Besides it being so cold, I like it here, it's nice."
Smith has done nothing to make the Royals think they made an ill-advised decision. On a rotation packed full of prospects, Smith has stood out with his consistency. He has not allowed more than three runs in an outing, boasts the lowest ERA (2.07) of any Wilmington starter, and has the second-most strikeouts (34) on the team and the second-lowest batting average against (.207).
“He’s been a rock for us,” Wilson said. “He brings a consistency to the table we have really needed, and that’s exactly what you need from guys at the top of your rotation.”
The Chicago Bulls continue to do things that make no sense whatsoever. Missing what seems like their entire team, the Bulls just keep finding ways to win games this postseason. First they beat the Brooklyn Nets in seven games to move on to the second round of the NBA playoffs. Then they shocked the world on Tuesday by scoring the final 10 points in game one of their series with the defending world champion Miami Heat. The Bulls' 93-86 upset was shocking, but it also provided a critical shot in the arm to these NBA Playoffs.
Virtually everyone is certain the Heat are on cruise control to winning a second straight title. They have been dominant all season long, and any team that might have a chance to challenge them in the postseason has serious injury issues to overcome.
The opening round was rather boring with the exception of the Bulls-Nets series, which no one really cared about because it was assumed that the winner was destined to be swept by Miami. Only one series got to seven games, and two of the four series that were decided in six saw one team jump out to a three-games-to-none lead in the series.
The second-round matchups are lacking sizzle as well. Golden State is fun to watch, especially when Steph Curry is draining everything, but not many think Curry is capable of doing that to San Antonio four times in seven games. Oklahoma City and Memphis should be entertaining, but without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder feel like an incomplete team. Meanwhile in the East, the Pacers play a style of basketball that is painful to watch, and the Knicks live and die by the three, which means that series has the potential to be uglier than Lindsay Lohan's mugshots.
That only leaves Miami-Chicago, which was supposed to be no contest. Maybe it still will be, but it is important to remember that the Bulls are the team that ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak two months ago. They also bring to the series what appears to be the best coach in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau, a man whose team is hanging on his every word at the moment. And most importantly, they bring with them a heart the size of Lebron, D-Wade and Bosh's ego combined.
They may still get crushed in the long term, but at least the Bulls are giving basketball fans something to look forward to in these playoffs. For that, they have everyone's gratitude.
One thing the steroids era indisputably did was alter fans' perception of the aging process for athletes. There was a time when if a pitcher began to break down in his mid-30's, everyone would realize he was (to use an old baseball adage) out of bullets. Then three-quarters of baseball used some sort of performance-enhancing drug in the '90's and everyone's view of what an older baseball player should be able to accomplish morphed as well.
The problem now is that baseball is not the bastion of drug use that it once was. I'm not naive enough to think that there aren't at least some players still beating the system with undetectable PEDs, but I truly believe it is an uncommon practice now thanks to the stringent policies commissioner Bud Selig put in place.
That's why it consistently amazed me how many folks just assumed Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay would return to his old form this season. He is 35-years-old (with his 36th birthday less than two weeks away) and is coming off of his worst season in a decade. His velocity has been on the decline for almost two full years and he has never been a guy who gets by with cunning and guile. So how was this magical bounce back actually going to unfold?
Even when he got shellacked over and over again during spring training, there were plenty of people that dismissed it. 'He'll be fine,' they swore. 'Just wait until Opening Day when Doc knows it counts. He's a gamer and will turn it on then.'
There were still a few holdouts remaining after his disastrous start to the 2013 regular season. Halladay won some more converts over with two straight decent outings against the Marlins and the Pirates, but his bandwagon collapsed this week. The guy who was the best pitcher in baseball just a few short seasons ago failed to get through the third inning in back-to-back outings against Cleveland and Miami.
Now word has leaked that Halladay is headed to an arm-specialist and is likely going to be placed on the disabled list as soon as today.
The saddest thing is; this really should not shock anyone. Power pitchers don't naturally get stronger in their mid-30s. Only Nolan Ryan has been able to stay at the top of his game thanks to throwing heat at that stage of his career without some sort of scientific assistance.
Halladay is breaking down exactly when (pre-steroids era) history dictates he should. It sucks for him and for Phillies fans, but it is true. Now the entire Delaware Valley has to live with the consequences and learn to accept the real and natural physical limitations of the human body.