D-backs RHP Riley Smith takes rotation role, to start Saturday vs. Reds

Apr 9, 2021, 3:25 PM | Updated: 5:27 pm
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Riley Smith (46) celebrates with catcher Carson Kelly after the team's...

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Riley Smith (46) celebrates with catcher Carson Kelly after the team's baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks won 7-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Diamondbacks will fill the open rotation spot vacated by Caleb Smith with 26-year-old right-hander Riley Smith, who will make his first MLB start Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds.

Smith pitched his first game this year after being called up on Saturday, going 5.0 innings in relief and allowing five hits, three runs (two earned) to go with three walks and four strikeouts.

“We felt like there was a good attack plan that he follows and has a fearless mentality by filling up the strike zone and we’re looking forward for somebody to pitch deep into games,” manager Torey Lovullo said.

The 26-year-old Smith made his MLB debut last season while working out of the bullpen. He made six appearances and posted a 1.47 ERA.

Smith allowed three earned runs and 15 hits in 18.1 frames last year and struck out 18 batters while walking five.

“I go up there, I pitch with an agenda,” Smith said Friday. “I’ve always wanted to play in the big leagues and it’s something I’ve worked at for my whole life. To see it come to fruition, I’m not going to waste that by being scared.”

Smith said he will have 15 to 16 family members in attendance Saturday at Chase Field.

“My family has followed me around the country for baseball. They live and breathe it. My whole family will be here,” he said. “They told me they were happy to see me start, that way they don’t have to start drinking Red Bulls at 10:30 to see me come out of the ‘pen.”

Lovullo said Smith’s mound presence and three-pitch mix (fastball, slider, curve) give the team confidence it can get quality starts out of him.

“He can throw any one of those pitches at any time, he can ride fastballs when he needs to at the top of the zone,” Lovullo said. “We just feel like he’s always — whenever he takes the mound — he’s always giving us a chance to stay in the baseball ball to help us win the baseball game.”

Arizona demoted Caleb Smith to the bullpen on Wednesday.

“We’re looking for him to be a little more consistent and we feel like this will give him the opportunity to go down in the bullpen and work on a couple things,” Lovullo told reporters Wednesday.

Riley Smith could have a chance to hang on to a rotation spot, but the D-backs will have decisions to make when starter Zac Gallen is ready to return from a hairline fracture in his throwing elbow.

Taylor Widener was named as the last starting pitcher to make the roster in Gallen’s place but threw six scoreless innings in his first outing.

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