Chad Smith has been an intriguing relief-pitching prospect for the Rockies. The 27-year-old was originally drafted in the 11th round of the 2016 draft by the Miami Marlins, and was traded to the Rockies in August 2020 in exchange for Jesús Tinoco.
Smith spent 2021 at the Rockies alternate site and made 36 appearances for the Albuquerque Isotopes. He threw 33 1⁄3 innings, posting a 2.97 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. In 2022, he had a 1.89 ERA and 1.73 WHIP in 17 games with the Isotopes before getting the call on May 28 against the Washington Nationals (he debuted on May 29). He’s been up and down since then, but has been with the major-league club since September 1 and will finish the season in Colorado.
And he is soaking in every moment of his big-league experience, even though he’s struggled to limit free bases.
“[It’s been] awesome,” Smith said. “[But] the thing I’ve struggled with more up here than Triple-A is walks and free bases. One of my goals coming into this year was to limit those types of things and I felt that I did that for the most part in Triple-A. Then when I got up here it didn’t translate, so when I was down there, that was the biggest thing — trying to just hone in on that and be ready when I got back here.”
So far in seven appearances with the Rockies, Smith has posted a 10.80 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in seven innings. He has also allowed 10 free bases (eight walks, two hit batters) and struck out 11 batters. After starting his career with a scoreless inning against the Nationals, Smith has been a bit up and down — allowing six runs in his second start, one or less in the next three starts, a three-run homer against Cincinnati on September 4, and then another scoreless frame against the Diamondbacks on Sunday. However, as he noted, he has allowed at least one free pass in five of his seven appearances. But he has worked to make adjustments and hopes the results will start showing that.
“[I’m] trying not to fly open as much,” he said, “trying to stay more closed, stay in my lanes and directionally to the plate. It’s just really simple things, to be honest. It’s stuff I’ve been doing forever — it’s not like I have to rewrite the book on what to do and how to do it. I’ve just got to trust it, that’s been the biggest thing.”
Luckily for Smith, he has some veterans to lean on in the bullpen to help him ‘stay within himself’ and adjust to pitching at altitude in the big leagues.
“[Daniel] Bard and I talk small talk in the bullpen, but I talk to [Jhoulys] Chacín a little bit,” he said. “It’s more or less altitude-wise because I’m a sinker guy, so it’s more like picking your lanes when you’re in altitude when you’re not in altitude — making sure you know how your ball is going to move versus, like, when we were in Atlanta.”
Smith also mentioned how he felt Albuquerque prepares Rockies prospects for the adjustments they need to make at altitude versus sea level.
“It’s not really the altitude, it’s going back and forth because one week your pitch is doing one thing and the next week it’s not doing what you were seeing the week prior,” he said.
But he also has found a way that works to help him adjust to the ups and downs of pitching in purple pinstripes. Depending on how his body and arm are feeling on the first day in a new city, he spends time on the mound.
“[I’ll] maybe throw a little side [session] — 10-12 pitches, something like that — just trying to get a feel for the baseball, trying to get a feel for how it’s moving, what you’re more comfortable with, what side of the plate you’re more comfortable throwing to, and just trying to get as much as you can and go from there.”
Looking towards the end of the season, Smith has some targeted goals: “limit free passes; stay in the strike zone more and let my defense work; try to help the team win whenever I get in there because no matter what the situation is, I’ve got a job to do and I’m just trying to do that. And finish this year strong and build on it next year.”
The 27-year-old has shown flashes of success, and could be a key part of the Rockies bullpen going forward if he’s able get back within himself and pitch like he did in Albuquerque. He just has to get back within himself and keep executing in games.