The at-bat almost never seemed to end.
Caleb Smith threw pitch after pitch to former teammate J.T. Realmuto in the first inning on Saturday. Realmuto kept fouling them off.
“I just thinking ‘I wish he would swing and miss,’” Smith said.
That outcome eventually happened with Realmuto whiffing on a 93 mph four-seam fastball to close out the inning but not before Smith threw 11 pitches in that one at-bat and 29 pitches overall in that first inning with two walks sprinkled in.
The first inning could have been demoralizing. One more long inning could have resulted in a short start for Smith, who is still just nine months removed from surgery to repair a Grade 3 lat strain that ended his rookie season after 16 starts.
Instead, in a game highlighted by the Marlins’ offense breaking out of a slump in a big way with a season-high 18 hits, Smith powered through and rattled off six scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and four walks while striking out four in the Marlins’ 10-3 win over the Phillies on Saturday night. After a 29 pitch first inning, Smith needed just 70 to get through his final five.
“[The pitch count] was definitely in my mind,” Smith said. “After the second inning, I think I was at 45 pitches, so I went out there and just tried to pitch more to contact. That was the key to me going six.”
Starting with the Realmuto strikeout to end the first inning, Smith retired 17 of the final 19 batters he faced, giving up just a double to Andrew McCuthen in the third and a walk to McCutchen to lead off the sixth.
And now, three turns through the rotation, Smith is rivaling MLB’s best.
▪ His 0.88 WHIP (Walks and hits per inning) is fifth in the National League and tied for 12th in MLB among starters.
▪ His 21 strikeouts lead the staff and are tied for 11th in the NL.
▪ His 2.65 ERA is second on the Marlins to Trevor Richards (2.00) and 13th in the NL.
▪ His 14 percent swinging-strike rate is tied for 13th in MLB among pitchers who have thrown at least 200 pitches. Those Smith is in the same company with: Chris Archer, Zack Godley, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Rodon and Corey Kluber.
“He had enough of everything,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.