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Homeward Bound: Athletics' Smith Heads Back to Oracle This Weekend at top of his Game

Reliever Burch Smith, who came to the Giants a year ago this week, now heads back to Oracle Park with the Oakland Athletics, with a 0.00 ERA in the best stretch of his big league career.
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The Oakland A’s have a rare day off Thursday – the only one in a stretch of 30 games in 31 days – and they will get back to work Friday.

For Burch Smith, Friday’s A’s game at Oracle Park will be a trip back home of sorts.

It was 366 days ago that Smith, then pitching for the Brewers, was claimed off waivers by the San Francisco Giants. He didn’t have a bad go of it across the Bay, either, pitching in 10 games, frequently a batter or two at a time.

He pitched in just 8.2 innings with a 2.08 ERA. Still there were things that the Giants saw they weren’t crazy about. He had runners on base all the time with a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 1.615, so the Giants could view his ERA as an outlier. At that, Smith’s WHIP was the best of his career.

So, when the A’s got him from the Giants in February, it wasn’t a blockbuster. There aren’t blockbusters in straight cash deals generally, and Smith 6.57 career ERA and 1.694 career WHIP were far from stellar.

But as Smith returns to Oracle with the A’s, he’s looking for a fun weekend.

“This being my sixth (MLB organization), I’ve had a lot of instances where I can play against my former team,” Smith said earlier this week. “It’s always fun to know your friends and compete against them, so there is always some of that in the back of your heard.

“You know you definitely want to pitch well against them.”

Smith has pitched in five of the A’s first 19 games as Oakland has gotten off to a 13-6 that’s good for a four-game lead in the American League West. He’s got two wins, one save and hasn’t allowed a run. He’s only allowed five base runners (four hits and a walk) in 10.1 innings while striking out 10.

Asked what’s changed from last year, Smith said it’s been more mental than physical.

“All I’m trying to do is to throw strikes and stay ahead of the hitter,” he said. “I made the mistake of trying to overcomplicate things. Maybe it was looking too much into scouting reports or giving the hitter too much credit.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to be on the attack and just throw your best pitch. And that’s what I feel like I’m doing a good job of doing.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way. He’s got a major fan in manager Bob Melvin.

“He’s been an absolute godsend for us,” Melvin said.

Pitching coach Scott Emerson said Smith is one of the underlying reasons for the A’s bullpen success this season.

“Burch has done a great job,” Emerson said. “He's got a good fastball. He's probably got a lot better location than I thought he had at one time, and I really like his changeup. He can throw it at the bottom of the zone, and that helps out his spin rate. He has elevated fastball.

“And he's got an idea of what he wants to do with his ball.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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