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Cleveland Indians

Smith finally on a run

By Sheldon Published: August 26, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo.: It took awhile. That's the way it works, especially for younger, less experienced relief pitchers who drop their arm down and throw sidearm.

Those pitchers can't be trusted, according to conventional baseball wisdom. If they throw with their right arm, like Joe Smith of the Indians, left-handers get a longer look at the ball and are likely to jump all over the guy's pitches.

Admittedly, Smith has had trouble with left-handed batters, but his manager, Eric Wedge, wants him to keep trying.

But Smith had more serious problems this year. He got sick in spring training then spent time on the disabled list with a strained rotator cuff.

"I really didn't feel right until after the All-Star break,'' he said. "I finally came off the DL and got back with the guys in the bullpen, so I could see where I fit in. I didn't want to mess anything up for anybody.''

Smith was concerned because he had had a shoulder injury years earlier.

"I haven't had shoulder problems since surgery in 2001,'' he said. "So I was hoping it wasn't serious, and fortunately it wasn't.''

Smith's value wasn't evident until recently, but in his past 15 appearances, Smith has given up runs only once, yielding two runs to the Angels last Saturday in Cleveland.

Even with that slip-up, Smith has allowed only those two runs, 10 hits and no walks in 132/3 innings. The last time he gave up a walk was July 10 against the Tigers.

One thing that has helped Smith get back on track is what he calls his pitching drills.

"When I was with the Mets, (pitching coach) Rick Peterson had me doing these drills, and they got me going faster,'' Smith said. "The people over here were open-minded about it, so I do them here. If I haven't thrown for a couple of days, I'll make 20-25 throws, but not full go.''

As for retiring lefties, Smith said "I still want to face them. The more I face them, the better I'll get.

"Last year, I had a problem because I walked them a lot. This year, I'm getting ahead in the count. They're still getting some hits, but I think I'm going in the right direction.''

The baseball bias against sidearmers is common in the big leagues.

"In college, as a closer, you face everybody,'' Smith said. ""In the minors, it's the same. In the big leagues, a sidearm guy is facing right-handers and suddenly, there's a lefty, and you haven't faced them. So what do you do? You don't have a plan.

"But if my biggest (career) worry is whether they're going to let me face left-handed batters, that's not really a worry.''

NO ILLUSION -- There's a legitimate physical reason why Travis Hafner is held out of the lineup every few days, including Wednesday.

"I think (his lack of consistency) is still somewhat physical,'' Wedge said. "It took us this long to get him to (play) four days in a row. That's real. He still has some fatigue in the shoulder.

"I don't think he's hurt, but there have been lasting affects from the surgery and the rehab. I think he needs some down time to be 100 percent. He should give his shoulder a couple of months rest over the winter then start swinging a bat.''

LEADER WANTED -- Next year, it's almost certain that the Tribe rotation will feature youth, probably in four of the five spots.

Each group of players can function without a leader, but it's preferable if someone can function in that role.

"As long as they come together with five guys sticking close together, and they're competitive, we can be OK,'' Wedge said.  "But Jake Westbrook for sure will be a leader of the rotation,''

Westbrook will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.

CLASS OF '09 -- Seven Tribe minor leaguers are headed to the Arizona Fall League: right-handers Connor Graham, Josh Judy and Zach Putnam; catcher Matt McBride; infielders Carlos Rivero and Josh Rodriguez and outfielder Nick Weglarz.

Teams send many of their brightest prospects to the AFL, which will begin Oct. 13 and end Nov. 21.

FARM FACTS -- Michael Brantley tripled, doubled and singled, but Columbus lost 8-7 to Indianapolis. ... Bryan Price (3-8, 6.16 ERA) gave up three runs and six hits in 32/3 innings, as Kinston lost 6-1 to Frederick. ... T.J. House (5-10, 3.14 ERA) yielded five earned runs (six total) and nine hits in five innings, as Lake County lost to Delmarva 8-5. John Allman had three hits

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