AT&T PARK — San Francisco Giants reliever Will Smith had not pitched at AT&T Park since Game 4 of the 2016 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. The following spring training, his elbow didn’t feel quite right, so he sat for a week. In his second outing back, on March 20, 2017 against the Chicago White Sox, he tore his ulnar collateral ligament.
On Wednesday morning, 568 days after his last Major League outing, Smith was officially activated from the disabled list. The 28-year old lefty entered in the seventh and struck out two of the four San Diego Padres he faced, receiving a standing ovation as the Giants clinched the three-game series with a 9-4 win.
“In the bullpen before, it was like, ‘Alright, this is about to happen now. This isn’t High-A anymore, this isn’t Triple-A anymore. You’re back. You’re back in the big leagues,'” Smith said.
Smith sat at 94 mph with his fastball and got several swings and misses with his big, 82-mph breaker, throwing 12 of his 20 pitches for strikes. Smith retired three of the four men he faced in his 1.0 inning of work with the game well in hand.
“You sit out almost a year and a half, just to be able to play baseball again was a pretty incredible feeling I’ll probably never forget,” Smith said.
After Smith fanned first baseman Eric Hosmer to end the seventh, he slapped his glove on his thigh — his own personal pat on the back, he said — and then, catcher Nick Hundley handed him the ball. Smith put it in a plastic cube for safe keeping, until he can hand it to his parents.
Hundley and shortstop Brandon Crawford were two of the big reasons Smith was able to work with a six-run lead, as the pair combined to drive in six.
Hundley — Monday’s walk-off hero — drove in one with a single in the bottom of the first and hit a two-run home run in the fourth. Hundley finished the day 4-for-5 with four runs, and came a triple short of the cycle. He doubled in his penultimate at-bat, but was thinking three out of the box.
“Yeah, and then I almost got thrown out at second,” Hundley said.
Crawford, who went 2-for-4, hadn’t had a multi-hit game since April 13, and came in hitting just .198.
“He’s probably been pressing a little bit, to be honest,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s such a good hitter, and I said it’s just a matter of time.”
With the bases loaded and no outs in the third, Crawford sent the first pitch he saw from Padres starter Clayton Richard under Hosmer’s glove for a two-run single. It was just the second time this season that Crawford — who has two home runs — had driven in a teammate. After Brandon Belt singled off of Hosmer’s mitt in the sixth to drive in Hundley, Crawford added a sacrifice fly.
The Giants will now head to Atlanta to start a 10-game road trip, which happens to come at the perfect time for Smith. He was born in Newnan, Ga., about 40 minutes outside of Atlanta, and owns a house just 10 minutes from the home where he grew up. His parents are planning a cookout on Thursday night.
“I think the whole fam dam will be there,” Smith said. “If any of the guys want to show up, shoot, I’ve got a bed for them if they want to stay, so we’ll see.”
Odds and Ends
Andrew McCutchen (1-for-1) took pitch off of his left elbow with two outs in the bottom of the second, and after a lengthy chat with Bochy and trainers, took first. He did not return to play the field, and was replaced by Gorkys Hernandez, who moved over to right, as Gregor Blanco took over in left in the top of the fourth. He was diagnosed with a contusion.
“It caught him pretty good,” Bochy said. “It sounded like it hit the bat. Had X-rays, they’re negative, so we’ll see how he’s doing Friday. We’re off tomorrow, and it’s probably coming at a good time for him. He tried to keep going, but he couldn’t straighten out his arm there. I think he’s going to be fine come Friday.”
It was because of the short bench that, after Holland got through 5.0 innings without facing the dangerous Franchy Cordero and Christian Villanueva for a third time, the Giants pinch-hit pitcher Ty Blach — and his .077 batting average — in the bottom of the frame. He struck out on five pitches.
With McCutchen down, it’s possible that either Brandon Belt or Alen Hanson could play in the outfield, especially if that means finding a way to get Hundley’s bat in the lineup, Bochy said. The Giants backup catcher now has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats.
“Going with the extra pitcher, I don’t know how long, we’re going to talk about it on the flight [to Atlanta],” Bochy said. “We have a couple options. Belt is one of them. We could play him in left field, Hanson’s played some outfield. He could go out there too.”
Mac Williamson would also be an option, once he comes off of the concussion list.
Bochy was more specific post-game about the prospects for pitcher Johnny Cueto to go see orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who specializes in Tommy John surgery, during the Atlanta leg of the Giants’ three-city road trip.
“I think that is part of the plan,” Bochy said. “Don’t hold me to that, but we’re going to Atlanta, and of course, he’s pretty close to Atlanta there, in Pensacola. I think right now, he is planning on seeing him, just to get another opinion.”