Asked if he was healthy after his latest botched relief appearance for the Phillies, Matt Smith replied, "Believe me."
So, it will be a healthy Smith who pitches for Triple A Ottawa in place of lefthander Fabio Castro, who was called up yesterday.
Smith leaves town with an 11.25 earned run average and a whopping 11 walks in four innings of work in nine appearances. Castro hits town with a 2-0 record and a 3.24 ERA in six outings with Ottawa. He joins a club desperate for a lefthanded reliever who can get them out of tough spots against tough lefthanded hitters.
"We're facing Bonds pretty soon," manager Charlie Manuel said.
That would be Barry Bonds, who is (14) homers shy of Hank Aaron's record of 755. Bonds appears to have regained the form that deserted him the past two injury-plagued seasons. The Phillies visit San Francisco for four games beginning Thursday.
By then, Manuel hopes to have worked Castro into a few lower-pressure situations. The Phillies traded pitcher Daniel Haigwood to Texas for Castro in June and had to keep Castro on the 25-man roster for the rest of the season because he was a Rule-5 draftee. Castro effectively made the Phils a 24-man team, since, then 21 years old with almost no experience above Class A, they were reluctant to pitch him in meaningful moments.
His 1.54 ERA in 16 games came mostly in noncrucial situations.
By contrast, after Smith arrived from the Yankees as part of the Bobby Abreu trade, he was thrust into an important role and shined: three hits, two runs and four walks allowed in 14 outings.
Neither had a good spring. At one point, Smith allowed 11 runs in two early outings. But he settled and, at 27, possessing a ton more pro experience than Castro, the Phillies reluctantly opted to go with Smith.
"I was worried about his command," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I felt I had to have a lefty. And Castro was too young. Smitty was more mature."
The Phils ran out of patience with Smith after he walked three and allowed a run in Wednesday's win over the Nationals. With no command of his fastball and no bite on his bread-and-butter slider, he looked nothing like the pitcher who helped carry the bullpen the last 2 months of 2006.
"I want him to get his confidence back," Manuel said. "There's a good chance he'll be back up here."
Until then, Castro has a chance to stick. Over the winter, he was outstanding in the Dominican Winter League and in the Caribbean Series – as a starter.
He wasn't tired after pitching winter ball, and the pressure of making a major league roster did not affect him in spring training, he insisted. He just found it difficult to get back into a bullpen rhythm.
"The transition was difficult," Castro said.
Of course, facing the likes of Barry Bonds can hold its challenges, too.
Wes Helms had a rough day despite getting two hits. He committed his team-high fourth error, got doubled off first base on a soft liner to shortstop in the fifth, and went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position, falling to 5-for-28 in that situation . . . Only one of the 18 runners righthander Geoff Geary has inherited has scored. He stranded three yesterday . . . Aaron Rowand is 22-for-53 with four homers and nine RBI during his current 14-game hitting streak, the best of his career. *