KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Mastering one position is tough enough. Switching from the outfield to pitching – and turning it into a call-up to the major leagues – now there’s your big points for level of difficulty.
“Especially how he chose to do it on his own,’’ Chris Beck said of fellow rookie pitcher Blake Smith. “To believe in what he can do, and what he has done. It’s not like he was a slouch at the plate, either.’’
Drafted by the Dodgers in the second round out of Cal in 2009, Smith, an outfielder who had pitched 62 innings in college, saw a crowd in the L.A. organization’s outfield and decided to switch to the mound in 2013 despite owning a career .269 minor league batting average. He found his way to the Sox organization and pitched well enough in the second half of this season at AAA Charlotte, with 17 scoreless appearances in his last 18, get a call.
Smith did not get a call in the bullpen in the Sox’ 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium. Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez negated the need for much relief, pitching seven innings and allowing three runs for his 10th quality start in his last 11 outings.
“It’s been fun. It still hasn’t really clicked that I’m out there,’’ Smith, 28 said. “It’s crazy. Almost surreral, you know? After I got that first one I wanted some more.’’
Smith has made three relief appearances of one inning each, allowing a run. When bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen told him, “Blake, you’re going in” on Sept. 10, there were butterflies “but it was a cool feeling,’’ he said.
Smith pitched a perfect ninth, that for him, represented a milestone of sorts on a long journey. It wasn’t easy getting there, changing careers and all.
“Everybody has their trials and tribulations, mine was just a little different,’’ he said. “It was definitely difficult. It makes the reward sweet having gone through the whole process.
“Getting this kind of experience in the major leagues is awesome. I just want to finish strong and get after it in the offseason.’’
The Sox, who are trying to finish strong with their first winning month since April, fell to 9-7 in September with the loss Saturday. Another September callup named Smith, former University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kevan Smith, got his first major league hit, a single against reliever Dillon Gee, in the fifth inning.
“It’s almost like you are on a cloud,’’ Kevan Smith said. “It’s kind of surreal. I hit that one up the middle in Minnesota and [second baseman Brian] Dozier laid out for it and made that crazy play. This time it was a for sure thing so it was a nice, easy jog to first.’’
Gonzalez cited Smith for calling a strong game but Smith said the pleasure was all his.
“Oh, man. He’s fun to catch,’’ Smith said. “He can throw everything for strikes, throw everything in every situation. He kind of makes it easy for me.’’
The Sox got one run in the first off lefty Jason Vargas, making his first start after an extended stay on the disabled list, on Melky Cabrera’s RBI single. The scored in the eighth when Avisail Garcia bounced a roller off third base for an RBI double.
Gonzalez gave up two quick hits, one a bunt, in the first, and allowed a run on Kendrys Morales’ sacrifice fly, then cruised until the Royals got him for two runs on four hits in the fifth.
The Royals (75-73) halted their losing streak at five, dropped the Sox to 72-76.