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."