Smith pitching his way onto Rox roster
Lefty throws four scoreless innings in win over Dodgers
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Greg Smith might have pitched his way onto the Major League roster.
Before Smith's four scoreless innings in Tuesday's 3-1 victory over the Dodgers to complete his Cactus League play with a 1.80 ERA, he was the sixth starter on a five-man staff. That usually means a trip to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
But after Tuesday's game, Rockies manager Jim Tracy said Smith could open the season on April 5 at Milwaukee as a long reliever and left-handed matchup option.
Earlier in camp, Tracy downplayed Smith as a relief candidate, noting that he didn't pitch in the Majors last season and saw limited Minor League action because of shoulder and back issues. But the desire to field as good a squad as possible out the gate, and the prospect of the Brewers having strong lefty hitters, is leading him to rethink.
"We were at a point at that time when there were several days on the calendar to allow someone to step forward big-time, and up to this point that really hasn't occurred," Tracy said.
Closer Huston Street will begin the year on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury. That means lefty Franklin Morales becomes the primary closer option and Randy Flores is the only lefty setup man.
With left-hander Joe Beimel having not joined the club until signing a Minor League contract last week, Tracy was hoping one of the non-roster veteran right-handers would have stepped into the void. But the best candidate, forkball specialist Justin Speier, who can handle righties and lefties equally, has not blown away the competition, and the Rockies haven't been sold on Tim Redding (who has struggled) and Juan Rincon (who struck out two in a scoreless inning Tuesday).
Enter Smith, who was acquired from the Athletics when the Rockies dealt outfielder Matt Holliday after the 2008 season. Street, who converted 35-of-37 saves last year, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who has emerged as leadoff man, already have given the Rockies a win in the trade, considering Holliday languished until being dealt to the Cardinals. Smith could make it a sweep.
The big issue is Smith, who pitched 190 1/3 innings for the Athletics as a rookie in 2008, has a total of two pro relief appearances and none since rookie ball in 2005. He also was a reliever his first two years at LSU.
"It's not a totally foreign thing to me," Smith said. "If they put me there, I'll have no problems with it. I'll adjust accordingly, I'll get some information from Morales or Flores or Street, how they go about things.
"If I fit the bill, then so be it. I'll have no problem doing that."
Payton, Lo Duca sent down
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Rockies announced, among several cuts, that outfielder Jay Payton, who missed last season because of right shoulder surgery, and catcher Paul Lo Duca, who went unsigned last year after fighting injuries in 2008, were reassigned to Minor League camp. But both have been invited to stay with the squad through exhibition games in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday and Saturday.
Lo Duca, who turns 38 on April 12, said earlier in camp he was willing to accept the assignment to continue to play. Payton, 37, said the same on Tuesday.
Tracy gave both as much playing time as possible in camp. Lo Duca's action was trimmed because of a bout with a strain beneath his right arm. He hit .222 in 27 at-bats. Payton hit .255 in 47 at-bats, which is tied for second-most on the team.
"I'm ready to play," Payton said. "I'd love to be starting the season in the big leagues. I feel I'm ready for that. But I feel this is a great team and there's not really a spot for me. I'll go down, get myself ready and hopefully an opportunity will open up here, because there's no doubt I feel this team is going to be in the playoffs."
Other non-roster players reassigned to Minor League camp were catcher Paul Phillips, infielders Michael Paulk and Omar Quintanilla (out with a knee injury), and outfielders Cole Garner and Matt Miller.
Smith has Minor League options, meaning once Beimel is ready or the Rockies need to make another pitching move, they can send him down without exposing him to other teams via waivers.
Young Jr. optioned
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The other cut was utility man Eric Young Jr., who hit .222 but showed he needs experience defensively -- especially in the outfield. He was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
The decision was not unexpected. The Rockies signed veteran utility man Melvin Mora shortly before Spring Training.
Manager Jim Tracy said he would like for Young, a second baseman for much of his career, to play various positions in Triple-A. Tracy expects an impact from Young, who helped the team during the September stretch run.
"He has been a complete professional since the first time that I shook his hand when I wasn't the manager," Tracy said. "Basically, what I said to him was this, that there's a very strong chance this guy could end up being the Carlos Gonzalez of 2009. This is a big-time piece for us."
Gonzalez, like Young a highly regarded prospect, joined the Rockies in June and was one of the team's best hitters during the second half of the season.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.