Melvin calls Smith `an Absolute Godsend' to Athletics Bullpen in the Early Going

Heading into the week, right-hander Burch Smith has pitched in five games for the A's, winning two and saving one while not allowing a run. More than that, he's saved the bullpen with a couple of long stints, including his three-inning save against the Astros Sunday.
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Frankie Montas isn’t ashamed to admit he didn’t know anything about Burch Smith when the A’s got him in a cash deal with the San Francisco Giants back on Feb. 18.

After seeing Smith in action – five games, two wins, one save, 10.1 innings pitched, no runs, four hits and one walk allowed and 10 strikeouts – Smith has become must-see viewing for Montas.

Montas, named American League Player of the Week after going 2-0 against the Mariners and Astros last week, waxed lyrical about Smith, laughing as he said the Giants “messed up” in letting him go across the bay.

The right-hander said “I get excited” to see Smith throw, and watches the way he delivers every pitch, saying “he’s not afraid. He attacks.”

The A’s are the sixth organization Smith, drafted in the 14 round by the San Diego Padres in 2011, has played for. He came into the season with 2 wins and 10 losses. He not only wasn’t on Montas’ radar, he wasn’t on anybody’s.

But by throwing in five games without allowing a run for Oakland heading into Monday’s series opener in Anaheim, he’s opened some eyes.

Manager Bob Melvin said when the deal with the Giants was made that pitching coach Scott Emerson was a Smith fan because Smith is a high spin-rate guy.”

A’s starter Sean Manaea is convinced, calling Smith’s collection of pitches “absolutely disgusting.”

And catcher Austin Allen, himself an A’s newcomer after debuting with the Padres last year, said “Burch is just nasty.”

“He’s got that fastball that just spins. It’s got that spin rate everybody talks about now,” Allen said. “And he can throw his curveball and changeup at any point, too. So, he’s definitely one of those guys that’s coming out of the bullpen and he’s going to attack hitters. He’s got the stuff to succeed.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin, who said back in February, that he’d heard from pitching coach Scott Emerson about the spin rate on Smith’s pitches.

“He’s been an absolute godsend for us,” Melvin said. “It looks like his fastball has a little bit of a rise to it that would suggest he has a good spin rate on the fastball. I know he’s got a good spin rate on his curve, which allows him to kind of pitch up and down where most pitchers go side to side. He can do both, and you see a lot of late swings and swings underneath it.”

Sunday Smith was on the mound for the final nine outs of a 7-2 A’s win. He got the save, the first of his career, and he was in the dugout when the brawl between the A’s and Astros, but declined to talk much about it beyond saying it’s the kind of incident that creates o bonding atmosphere.

“It’s an us-vs.-the-world mentality,” Smith said. “It’s just a universe of 28 guys, 30 guys, just a band of brothers. Any time there is someone challenging us or taking shots at us, we feel the need to stand up for each other.”

In August, he’s retired 20 of the 21 batters he’s faced. Asked about changes from last year, when he began pitching in Milwaukee and wound in in San Francisco, he said “I wouldn’t say I have new pitches.”

“I’d like to think that I’m always changing,” he said. “I’m always doing something different and trying to improve.”

He’s had particular success in the first three weeks of 2020, particularly with his changeup. He got three strikeouts with it Sunday.

He’s thrown it since college, using something resembling a classic circle change grip.

“It’s always been a very important pitch for me,” Smith said. “If you are throwing it right, it looks just like a fastball, and it’s really hard to pick up.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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