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Weary relievers look to Smith
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04/11/2002 02:35 am ET 
Weary relievers look to Smith
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com

St. Louis Cardinals' Bud Smith prepares to deliver a pitch in the first inning of a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles Monday, March 4, 2002 in Jupiter, Fla. (AP/Doug Murray)
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' bullpen turned in another heroic effort on Wednesday night, but even heroism is best taken in moderation. All other things being equal, St. Louis would much prefer its relievers not have to be supermen.

That's where Bud Smith comes in. The second-year lefty, who was one of the team's best starters last season, makes his first big-league start of 2002 on Thursday against the Brewers. He takes the place of Woody Williams, who is on the disabled list with a strained left oblique muscle. Coincidentally, it was Williams' early departure from a game against Houston last week that elicited the Redbird bullpen's first act of heroism this year.

Cardinals relievers turned in eight shutout innings on Wednesday following a second straight rough start from Andy Benes. On Tuesday, Garrett Stephenson made it into the seventh inning, but the team still used five relievers. It's time for Smith to soak up some innings. If he can.

"My last start in Memphis I felt real good, felt comfortable," Smith said. "I'm still kind of trying to get my strength back up. But it's getting there. I'm going tomorrow so I'm anxious."

Manager Tony La Russa has said he'd love to get a lengthy outing out of Smith, but he's going to be cautious with the 22-year old.

"It'd be nice," La Russa said, but "Bud's not somebody it would be too smart to push."

    Bud Smith   /   P
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 170
Bats/Throws: L/L

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Smith is still working his way back from a pair of subpar starts at the end of Spring Training. After pitching as well as anyone in camp over the first few weeks, he ran into troubles at the end of March. That, combined with the fact that Smith was the only candidate for the St. Louis rotation who had a minor-league option left, led to a season-opening trip to Memphis for the man who pitched a no-hitter last year.

"I felt fine the first three starts, and then the last two, I just got maybe a little tired, fatigued," Smith said. "And I just kind of got out of rhythm I think. It all fell apart the last start. And I went, 'OK, I'm not comfortable.' And Dunc (Dave Duncan, St. Louis pitching coach) said, 'We're gonna send you to Memphis just to get things situated.'"

Fortunately for Smith and the Cardinals, it all came together quickly. In his first start for the Memphis Redbirds, Smith lasted six innings, allowed two runs on four hits and struck out 10. He didn't get the win, but he'd made his point. When Williams went on the DL, there was no doubt who would get the call.

"I threw six innings down there, did all right, gave up two runs," Smith said. "I was really working on mechanics, getting my arm strength back, just getting comfortable on the mound again."

Of course, it gets a lot tougher when the opponent is the Milwaukee Brewers instead of the Fresno Grizzlies. But it's nice to have a guy like Smith to turn to when your staff needs a lift.

Matthew Leach covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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