April 25, 2007

Smith the Professional

Anthony Di Como at Mets.com, writes about Joe Smith and how he's pitching like a veteran:

"They're showing more confidence in me every day," Smith said. "Every once in a while, I start shaking, but that's just nerves of the situation. Every time, I feel more confident."

It took a while for that attitude to develop, with the revelation finally coming in a Spring Training game against the Red Sox. After hanging a slider on the inner half to 10-time All-Star Manny Ramirez, Smith cringed, then watched in disbelief as Ramirez harmlessly fouled it off. A small victory, but an immeasurable boost.

"You watch them on SportsCenter, they rip the ball," Smith said. "That's all you see. I feel more confident now that I can throw strikes and big-league hitters are actually going to pop up or ground out."

Mets manager Willie Randolph has confidence, too, constantly tossing his previously untested rookie into the fire. It was an extra-inning stint on Tuesday, following bases-loaded jams last Friday and Saturday. And through it all, Smith remains unscored upon -- now a span of 10 innings to start his career.

"That's the best way to do it," said closer Billy Wagner, the anchor of the 'pen. "You can't sit there and baby him and put him in lopsided games, because then you really can't tell anything about him. You can't help but be happy for him, because he has that poise."

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