Boston Red Sox reliever Carson Smith is reportedly nearing a return from Tommy John surgery.
Remember Carson Smith? You’d be forgiven if that name hasn’t been at the forefront of your thoughts over the past year. Since coming over to the Red Sox as the main piece for Wade Miley in a trade with the Seattle Mariners 18 months ago, he’s pitched a grand total of 2.2 innings in a Red Sox uniform due to a year-long recovery process from Tommy John surgery.
According to Evan Drellich of CSN New England, he’s close to a return, though.
Following surgery last May, many pointed to June as the likely time of return. Well, it’s June and Smith is beginning to accelerate his rehab process. The right-handed reliever is expected to throw a bullpen session with batters standing in (not swinging) and then live batting practice next week at Yankee Stadium. Per Drellich, Smith believes that he could be back after a brief rehab stint in the minors if all goes well over the coming week.
"“It’s gonna be based off how it goes,” Smith said. “If I feel good and I mean, and I feel healthy, most importantly, then I may reach a rehab stint after that [live BP in New York] or maybe have one more. I don’t see more than two, though.”"
At the time of the trade and certainly after his injury, many criticized Smith’s unorthodox delivery, which he describes a natural approach to pitching and non-mechanical. Whether his throwing delivery contributed to the forearm ailment that eventually led to TJ surgery is not for us to determine, however, he has kept his mechanics consistent throughout his recovery. We’ll see if that approach is the true cause when he makes his return at some point this month.
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Despite missing virtually all of 2016 and two months of 2017, Smith presents a critical mid-season addition to a Red Sox bullpen that is in no place to turn away additional arms. Aside from Craig Kimbrel who’s back to being the best reliever in baseball, their late-inning arms include Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly. They could use some additional depth.
Since we haven’t really seen him pitch with the club, the best evidence we have to gauge his ability is his performance with the Mariners. Over 78.1 career innings pitched in Seattle, he struck out 104 batters and walked just 24, good for an 11.7 K/9 and 4.08 K:BB ratio. To put it bluntly, he was really, really, good before the injury.
Red Sox fans should be excited to see him complete his rehab process and re-join the big league club. It’s unlikely that he’ll pitch to the level he did when he was with the Mariners this quickly after such a serious surgery, but the talent floor is pretty high.
FanGraphs modestly projects Smith to post a K/9 of 9.18, which sounds like a reasonable baseline considering his career mark.
The good news for him moving forward is that he won’t need to be a closer or even the setup man that he was expected to be when he came over to the club. This provides Smith with an opportunity to slowly regain the confidence he had with the Mariners and pitch in the spots he’s most effective – against right-handed batters.
He held righties to a .167/.248/.254 slash line in 2015, while his xFIP of 1.77 was good for second best among all pitchers with greater than 30 innings pitched.
So who is Carson Smith? Well, he’s a reliever with a career 194 ERA+ that strikes out a ton of batters and is dominant against righties. He’s also a valuable mid-season addition to the Red Sox bullpen, who when completely healthy, is capable of shutting down the eighth inning. Let’s hope this is one of the last times we’ll have to update his rehab process.