Smith was hammered for four runs on just two hits—RBI doubles by right-handed hitters—and he walked three while recording just one out.
Smith was the Brewers pitcher of the month in May after now allowing an earned run in 13 appearances and 13 innings with 18 strikeouts.
Through the end of May, Smith looked like the breakout bullpen star in baseball—a 0.36 ERA and a 1.184 WHIP in 28 appearances and 25.1 innings while fanning 36 batters.
June wasn’t quite as dominant, as Smith worked 16 times and 14.1 innings, with a 3.14 ERA and 1.465 WHIP. He allowed his first two home runs of the season and struck out 13 hitters.
And July has been nothing short of a train wreck—three losses, a 14.54 ERA and 2.308 WHIP in 11 appearances, with 14 earned runs in just 8.2 innings to go with seven walks and two home runs. He has struck out 16, but opponents are hitting .361 and slugging .722 against him this month. Nine of the 13 hits he’s allowed have been for extra bases.
In all, Smith has a 3.72 ERA and 1.469 WHIP in 55 appearances and 48.1 innings, striking out 65.
“Maybe what’s happening is he’s facing more righties now because he’s in this position,” Roenicke told MLB.com. “I know he is—and the numbers aren’t as good as they were before. But until we find somebody—and Zach Duke is certainly throwing the ball well enough that I could probably do that with him—I have to have somebody to pitch that inning. And then I can mix and match other innings.”
Roenicke has a bullpen philosophy and wants to stick by it.
“I think it always works out better if you have somebody to do the eighth and somebody to do the ninth and then you can pick the sixth and seventh,” Roenicke said. “That’s how we’ve done it and it’s worked.”
It begs the question: Did Roenicke run Smith into the ground through overuse?
Smith, 24, had 35 major league appearances prior to this season, when he was with the Kansas City Royals. Only 18 of those appearances were in relief. As a prospect, first in the Los Angeles Angels organization and then with the Royals, Smith made 112 starts and just 21 relief appearances.
His 48.1 innings aren’t likely the problem. The 55 appearances in 109 games—a pace just a bit more than once every other game—might be.
Roenicke mentioned Duke as a possibility for the eighth-inning role. The 31-year-old left-hander sports a 1.04 ERA and 0.946 WHIP in 50 appearances and 43.1 innings with 59 strikeouts, reinventing himself as a reliever after being a starter for six years with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2005-10, even earning an All-Star Game invitation in 2009.
Duke’s splits are encouraging, as he’s shutting down left-handed hitters to the tune of a .162/.219/.279 slash line while only allowing right-handed batters to slash .218/.269/.241.
And he’s actually faced more right-handed hitters than lefties (94-73), so the sample size is not insignificantly small.
But if Duke does become the eighth-inning guy, does he run the risk of overuse that seems to have befallen Smith and Brandon Kintzler before him?