Smith was indeed more effective later in the season, largely because he regained a feel for his slider. He allowed one run (a homer, of course) over his final seven regular-season appearances (5-1/3 innings).
“I wanted to prove myself, show these guys what I can do,” Smith said. “Maybe coming back from COVID, I was trying too hard too soon. I fell into that trap. But once I relaxed and calmed down, I was getting outs.”
Smith also logged five consecutive scoreless outings in the postseason before the Dodgers tagged him for three runs across his final two appearances – which included the matchup of Will Smith vs. Will Smith, won by the Dodgers’ Smith with a homer.
It ended Smith’s year on a sour note, but the southpaw arrived at Braves camp feeling refreshed. He’s in a good place mentally and physically, and he’s beginning the spring on a normal routine.
“I was definitely banking on summer camp, for sure,” Smith said, reflecting on the 2020 season. “I got COVID and had to sit out. It was tough to play catch in the backyard. That’s really all I had, all I could do. I’m really looking forward to having a full spring training this year.”
The Braves are going to need Smith’s best. Gone is Mark Melancon, last season’s closer, to San Diego. Veteran Darren O’Day departed for the Yankees. Former All-Star Shane Greene, another important cog in the 2020 bullpen, remains a free agent.
The Braves haven’t named a primary closer. It will be a group effort, as it stands early in camp, led by Smith, Chris Martin and A.J. Minter. Smith, to whom the team guaranteed $40 million over three seasons, reiterated he doesn’t care which inning he covers. His thoughts reflect the selfless nature in the Braves’ clubhouse.
“If we win, and I throw in the seventh or eighth inning, I don’t care,” he said. “Whoever gets those last three outs, let’s do it, man. We’re trying to win as many games as possible. I think if you check your ego at the door every day, and go get your three outs, you’ll have a successful bullpen.”