Tigers' Smith Has Itch To Pitch

Righty recovering from Tommy John surgery





DETROIT—Righthander Chad Smith came to spring training itching to pitch.
The Tigers had to remind Smith, who had Tommy John surgery in May 2011, that it takes time to recover from that procedure.

"In camp he was a little frustrated, and he kept asking to pitch sooner than we wanted him to," Tigers pitching coordinator Al Nipper said. "We had to sit down with him and talk about it.

"We let him know this is a process. We didn't want to have anything interrupt the process (of recovering from the surgery)."

Smith, 22, now is taking his frustrations out on opposing hitters. He began the season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and posted a 0.61 ERA in four appearances, with 23 strikeouts and six walks in 15 innings.

He earned a promotion to short-season Connecticut and baffled New York-Penn League hitters, posting a 1.42 ERA, fanning eight in six innings while giving up just three hits and two walks. As a result, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was promoted to low Class A West Michigan.

Nipper said Smith's success came in part because of his commitment to prepare for the season.

"For 10 months he worked on building arm strength, and going through the everyday process of getting back into baseball shape," Nipper said. "We didn't want to coddle him, but we wanted him to start getting ready for the season in spring training."

Smith was a 17th-round draft pick of the Tigers in 2011 out of Southern California, and probably would have been drafted higher after thriving following a switch to a relief role. He posted a 0.46 ERA in the Alaska Summer League in 2010 and had a 2.66 ERA in 2011 for the Trojans, but the Tommy John surgery—and the fact that he had leverage to return to USC for his senior year—caused his draft stock to slip.

TIGER TALES

• Outfielder Danry Vasquez struggled in an April cameo at West Michigan, batting .162/.218/.222 in 29 games. But the 18-year-old has rebounded with a strong performance for Connecticut, hitting .323/.361/.429 in 33 games.

• The Tigers moved top hitting prospect Nick Castellanos from third base to right field following the all-star break. The 20-year-old handled 22 chances without an error and had one outfield assist in 13 games.