Will Smith

Motivation from Buster Posey turned Will Smith into the man Bochy can trust

Motivation from Buster Posey turned Will Smith into the man Bochy can trust

PHOENIX -- Will Smith was sitting in the trainer's room at Scottsdale Stadium in the spring of 2017, trying to digest the news that he would need Tommy John surgery. Smith is almost always a cheery presence in the clubhouse, but he was down, knowing he had lost a season of his career. That's when Buster Posey approached him.

"Buster told me my responsibility to the team was to get better," Smith said. "I took that seriously."

If you still needed any proof that he did, Smith provided it Friday night, a short drive from the park where he once got the worst news of his career. On this night, he picked up his second career save, and he might have grabbed hold of a share of the ninth-inning job.

With Sam Dyson down for the day, manager Bruce Bochy wanted to use Reyes Moronta, Tony Watson and Smith to get through the final three innings, in some order. Andrew Suarez did his part, pitching six innings and handing a lead over. Moronta pitched the seventh, and because Watson warmed up in case Moronta might need help, the save opportunity was left to Smith.

Jake Lamb struck out swinging. Jeff Mathis flied out to right. John Ryan Murphy went down looking on the final pitch of the game, a 94.9 fastball that was the hardest pitch Smith has thrown since his elbow was cut open.

Since returning to the team at the start of May, Smith has a 1.13 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in 25 appearances. He has 33 strikeouts in 24 innings and has yet to allow a homer. Smith's fastball velocity is a tick above where it was in 2016, his last healthy season, and it should only get better. He has had some limitations the first couple of months back, but Smith and the training staff have all along pointed at the second half of 2018 as a time when he would fully return to his old form. Smith said he'll be ready to pitch on three consecutive days soon.

That kind of durability, combined with his stuff, could have Smith positioned as a regular in the eighth and ninth. Bochy said he would be comfortable turning to Smith with another save opportunity Saturday. If it comes, he'll be more prepared this time. Smith didn't know he would be the closer Friday night, but this still was more traditional than his previous big league save. That came in 2014, when Smith got the final out of a 4-1 Brewers win. Because he came on with two outs in the ninth, he didn't realize it was a save situation.

"I didn't know I did it the first time. It turned into a save situation," he said. "Everyone was telling me congrats and I was like, 'For what?' They were like, 'It's your first save.' I'll take it. Cool."

In battle of red-hot teams, Giants start road trip with win over Braves

In battle of red-hot teams, Giants start road trip with win over Braves

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants play just seven more games at home this month. Maybe that won’t bother them as much as it would have the 2017 club. 

The first night back on the road was a smashing success, a 9-4 win over the red-hot Braves behind Chris Stratton and a big second inning from the lineup.  The Giants have won nine of their last 12 games, and with one win this weekend, they'll have a fifth consecutive series win. Here's what you need to know from the opener... 

The Braves allowed four runs in their four previous games. The Giants put six on Mike Foltynewicz in the second, with Gregor Blanco getting a two-run triple and Brandon Belt knocking an RBI double. The lineup sent 10 hitters to the plate in a rally that started when Brandon Crawford and Austin Jackson both reached. 

We saw the good and the bad of Alen Hanson in just a couple minutes. He somehow didn’t score from second on Andrew McCutchen’s single to deep right, but then raced home and scored with an athletic slide when Buster Posey followed with a grounder to third. Hanson is the fastest player on the roster, but coaches have already noticed some mental lapses. He’s athletic enough to make unusual things happen, though, and this lineup could use some of that. 

Stratton got shelled in his last start and gave up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first Friday. After that, he settled in, getting through six solid innings. Stratton was charged with three earned and struck out six. 

Will Smith started warming up with a three-run lead and ended up taking the seventh with a five-run lead thanks to Crawford’s homer. He gave up a run, but the stuff was good and he needed just eight pitches to get through the inning. 

After 569 days, Will Smith finally returns to big league mound: 'It took a village'

After 569 days, Will Smith finally returns to big league mound: 'It took a village'

SAN FRANCISCO -- Left-hander Will Smith is a Falcons fan. Head trainer Dave Groeschner is a Patriots fan. One of them watched in joy as his team overcame a 28-3 deficit in the Super Bowl a year ago. The other watched his party clear out in 15 minutes, and then shortly thereafter -- on the 28th day of the third month of 2017 -- had his career put on hold by Tommy John surgery.

Let's just say the tedious shoulder exercises and lonely conditioning sprints in the outfield weren't always the worst part of Smith's 13 months of rehab.

"The opposite of 28-3," Smith said, shaking his head as he recalled the day his pitching elbow was sliced open. "Groesch wore me out."

But Groeschner was also waiting at the end of the tunnel. Smith took the mound in the seventh inning of a 9-4 win over the Padres and pitched a scoreless frame. It was his first big league appearance in 569 days, and he couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he walked off the field. Groeschner was waiting in the dugout and he gave Smith a huge hug. Then, the left-handed acquired at the deadline in 2016 went back to the trainer's room and had a similar moment with Tony Reali, the physical therapist who helped guide him through the long comeback process.

"If those guys didn't show up and work hard every day, there's no way we would be here," Smith said. "It took a village for sure."

All involved watched with smiles on their faces as Smith warmed up. His first big league pitch since Oct. 11, 2016 was a 93 mph strike on the inside corner to A.J. Ellis. Smith walked Ellis, but then blew a 94 mph fastball past Travis Jankowski for a strikeout. Manny Margot got 92 mph in on the hands and grounded out to third. 

The big test was Eric Hosmer, who had terrorized Giants pitching all series. Smith and Hosmer came up together in Kansas City's minor league system, and the last time they faced off Hosmer put down a bunt. As Hosmer dug in, Smith smiled at him.

"It was one of those looks, like, 'Please don't bunt,'" he said. 

Smith went 3-2 on Hosmer before striking him out on a slider in the dirt. The 20th pitch of Smith's comeback was scooped by Nick Hundley and then tossed back to the pitcher as he walked off the mound. 

"It was awesome," Smith said. "You sit out almost a year and a half, just to be able to play baseball again was a pretty incredible feeling."

Hundley said Smith's stuff was "electric and live." Manager Bruce Bochy reiterated what an important piece Smith will be moving forward, and that's more true Wednesday than it was Sunday, when Smith returned to the big league team. The Giants are already without Madison Bumgarner, Mark Melancon and Joe Panik, and now Johnny Cueto very well could be headed for the same diagnosis that Smith got in his first spring with the Giants. 

Cueto will see Dr. James Andrews in the coming days, and while the Giants have yet to say anything about the state of his ligament, sources indicated that there is not much optimism. The Giants seem to be hoping that Cueto is given an alternative to Tommy John surgery, but as Smith found out when his elbow first started barking, that is rare. 

Regardless, Cueto is expected to miss extended time, and Bumgarner is at least a month away. This is a team that will need to find a new path, and in that respect, Wednesday was encouraging. The lineup continued to show depth, hammering Clayton Richard and clinching a 7-3 homestand and fourth consecutive series victory. Smith was part of the group that closed out Derek Holland's first win with the Giants, and you can bet Bochy will try to shorten as many games as he can with a rotation that now includes three young pitchers, Holland, and Jeff Samardzija, who is still trying to push past shoulder issues that delayed his season debut. 

Smith is ready to join Strickland, Watson, Dyson and the rest in making life easier for the manager. But first, he has some business to take care of. The ball that Hundley threw him was tucked into a travel bag and Smith intends to give it to his parents. He also kept the lineup card, which he threw into a bag that included two well-worn manila folders. They were filled with rehab schedules that Smith followed six days a week from March 28, 2017 through his triumphant return. He no longer needs them.

"I might try to burn these," he said, laughing. "Maybe with the trainers."