ANAHEIM: There’s only one time each day the Indians players, coaches and manager Terry Francona are interested in seeing former teammate Joe Smith over the next few days and that’s before the game — passing by the clubhouse or perhaps even on the field during stretches.
“Joe Smith is one of the most professional, good guys in our game,” Francona said before the Tribe’s first of three games at Angels Field. “I remember a conversation I had with Smitty when he began going through free agency [this last offseason]. I told him flat out ‘we want you back so bad. But if you don’t [return], I hope you break the bank’ because he’s what you want in a professional. He takes the ball every day and he understands when your bullpen’s tired and might need a day. He’s a pro, man. A pro’s pro.”
But once the action got underway at Angels Stadium on Monday night and throughout the three-game series that wraps up the Tribe’s six-game West Coast road trip, the preference was for Smith — the Angels’ new closer — to not step foot on the field even once.
“Over the next three days I hope he stinks,” Francona said. “But other than that, I’m one of his biggest fans. And I only [managed him] a year. But I can see why he’s so respected throughout the game.”
For five seasons in Cleveland, Smith was a valuable member of the bullpen, last year serving as the Tribe’s all-important eighth-inning setup man when Vinnie Pestano struggled and was demoted.
Smith did so well, he garnered a three-year, $15.75 million contract with the Angles. Francona even paid him a pregame visit Monday to congratulate him on moving into the closer’s role Friday after 10 of Smith’s 11 appearances of the season were scoreless outings.
But the admiration ends there through Wednesday.
“I don’t want him to carve us up,” Francona said. “… I just think we all really like Smitty. Heck, it’s just hard not to like him. If you don’t like him, you’re trying not to. We all loved him. I hope he comes in and hangs a breaking ball and somebody hits it a mile — but that doesn’t change how I feel about him.”
ANOTHER REUNION — In addition to catching up and congratulating Smith in person, Francona also has the opportunity during this series to catch up with his son. The Angels hired Nick Francona over the offseason as the club’s coordinator of Major League player information.
ADDING TO THE COLLECTION — Indians starting pitcher Zach McAllister added another baseball to his personal collection of special mementos. In addition to the baseball McAllister saved marking his first major league win, the right-hander proudly added another ball from his first career big league hit Saturday. Batting Saturday against Tim Lincecum, the right-hander singled to right field in the second inning of the Tribe’s 5-3 loss.