MILWAUKEE -- Brewers reliever Will Smith's best pitch is a relatively new pitch. He didn't start throwing what has become his so-called "Slider of Death" until 2011 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
"It's saved my career," Smith said. "I wouldn't say I was stalling out, but every start was an absolute grind."
Smith was a starting pitcher in the Royals' system then, using a fastball, curveball, changeup combo. He had briefly thrown sliders in high school, but they hurt his arm, so he stopped. Royals pitching coordinator Bill Fischer and Northwest Arkansas pitching coach Larry Carter thought he'd grown enough by 2011 to try again.
Smith was game, and he canvassed the clubhouse asking other pitchers about their grips. He found one he liked from left-handed reliever Kevin Chapman, who is now in Triple-A with the Astros.
Smith is in the Major Leagues with Milwaukee, a key piece of the Brewers' setup puzzle. His perfect eighth inning on Saturday left Smith with a 0.55 ERA in 19 appearances, and 24 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings. Left-handed batters, particularly susceptible to that slider, had struck out 13 times in 24 at-bats.
"It was probably last year that I was finally comfortable with it," Smith said. "Going to the 'pen probably helped me throw it sharper and harder. I'm pretty confident now, whether it's a left-hander or a right-hander."