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Closer a working paradox

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


Hans Smith is confusing, at best.

Things you think he should be, he's not. Things you think he should do, he doesn't. Things you think should work against him have turned him into one of the most dominant closers in the minor leagues.

It should be a given that Smith, at 6 feet 9, is the tallest player in the Rays' farm system. He's not. Dwayne Jacobs is 1 inch taller.

Hearing that Smith is that tall and a closer should first bring to mind his fastball. That pitch has to be in the high 90s, right? Wrong. The Bakersfield left-hander tops out in the high 80s.

But the fastball helps Smith the most. It is fast enough to make his newly developed breaking ball effective. And he has enough command of it that when he hits his spots, it seems like the ball is going 95 mph.

Through Monday, Smith was tied for the California League lead with nine saves. He carried a 0.00 ERA in 172/3 innings with 17 strikeouts and seven walks.

The Rays' 11th-round draft pick last year (No. 316 overall) out of Fresno State led the league with six saves in April on his way to earning the Relief Man of the Month award.

His nine saves are one shy of his career total of 10, three of which came at Princeton last season before he got promoted and picked up seven at Charleston.

HITTING AND CATCHING: Durham catcher Toby Hall hit .500 last week, skyrocketing himself into the upper echelon of almost every batting category, and was named the International League's Player of the Week.

Hall's winning home run in the bottom of the 10th inning Sunday against Indianapolis capped a week in which the 25-year-old assumed the league lead in average (.345), RBI (30) and hits (50). After Monday's games, Hall was third in home runs with nine, second in slugging percentage at .614, tied for seventh in doubles with 12 and tied for ninth with 22 runs scored.

He went 1-for-3 Monday night to extend his hitting streak to 10 games and has hit safely in 27 of his past 29 games. Perhaps the most impressive statistic Hall has compiled is seven strikeouts in 145 at-bats.

THE BAKERSFIELD FOUR: Batting third through sixth, Bakersfield's Nate Kaup, Dan Grummitt, Matt Diaz and Chairon Isenia are considered the heart of the lineup. They are supposed to be the ones knocking in all the runs.

Instead, they are scoring them.

The four lead the Blaze in hitting, all above than .300. Grummitt, Kaup and Diaz are the top three in runs scored. Those three padded their totals by hitting home runs in Monday night's game against Lancaster.

SMOKIN' JOE: Joe Kennedy and his 0.19 ERA were promoted from Orlando to Durham on Thursday, and Kennedy made his first Triple-A start Friday night. Even on an off-night -- four runs on eight hits with two home runs, two walks, eight strikeouts and a hit batter -- he earned the win.

Kennedy's presence moves Mickey Callaway, the only Rays player to play all four years at Durham, into the bullpen.

WHITE TO THE DL: Durham placed pitcher Matt White on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness. White is 0-5 with a 7.80 ERA in seven starts. He has allowed 28 runs in 30 innings on 33 hits and has issued 25 walks. White also has thrown nine wild pitches.

JOSH-O-METER: The Josh-O-Meter, much like its namesake, is on hiatus. Outfielder Josh Hamilton, the Rays' top prospect, will miss a third consecutive week with an inflamed back. The Josh-O-Meter, rating Hamilton's chances to be called up to the major-league team this season, will return when Hamilton does.

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