Steve Smith was fully aware of the Albuquerque Isotopes' pitching situation when he took the mound in the opener of a doubleheader Saturday afternoon. The Isotopes had just played 10 innings the night before and had another seven-inning game to come Saturday night.
With the bullpen in need of a rest, the former New Mexico Lobos right-hander stepped up and delivered what his manager called Smith's best start of the year. Smith's brilliance for six innings combined with an offensive explosion to give Albuquerque an 11-3 victory over the Las Vegas 51s.
"That worked out perfectly for us," manager Damon Berryhill said. "Smitty was awesome for us. That's the best job I've seen anybody do of picking up the club knowing the situation. He came out pounding the strike zone."
Smith (2-4) came off the disabled list to make the start. He would allow just two runs on a homer by Wilmer Flores in the sixth inning, but otherwise scattered three other hits, struck out three and did not walk a batter.
"They told me I was starting a couple days ago," Smith said. "I just knew that I (had to) go out, keep the ball down in the zone and get through as many innings as possible to save the bullpen, knowing that we had the doubleheader today."
Smith was perfect through three innings before Matt den Dekker reached on an error by shortstop Carlos Triunfel to lead off the fourth. Smith recovered as he got Matt Reynolds to fly out to left field and Flores to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
The no-hit bid ended in the fifth inning when Josh Satin hit a flyball that dropped between a trio of Isotopes (41-48) in shallow right-center field. Den Dekker would reach on an infield single in the sixth and Flores followed two batters later with his home run to the base of the scoreboard in left-center.
"I kept the ball down in the zone, didn't miss up in the zone," Smith said. "The one pitch I did miss up was the home run. But for the most part the whole game I was down in the zone. That was probably the best I've felt."
Smith also managed to help himself out with his bat. He smacked an RBI single to right field in the fourth inning.
"Technically it's not my first hit ever but I would say it's my first hit ever," Smith said. "Because last year I had a groundball in (Double-A) Chattanooga and they gave it a hit but I thought it was an error. So I will count that as my first hit."
While Smith shined on the mound, the Isotopes' bats roared to life. Trayvon Robinson led off the first inning with a solo home run to right field.
Jamie Romak added a two-run homer and Triunfel had a two-run single to give Albuquerque a 5-0 lead over Las Vegas (51-38) in the first inning. Smith appreciated the support.
"Yeah, it definitely helped," Smith said. "Then it's easy to attack hitters when you've got a five-run lead. Just pound the zone, don't fall behind (in the count)."
Romak crushed a three-run homer in the fifth inning to cap another five-run outburst. Brian Cavazos-Galvez, another former Lobo, went 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
"We really swung the bats well today," Berryhill said. "Up and down the lineup we came up with big hits."
The Isotopes and 51s will meet again Saturday at 7:05 p.m. for another seven-inning game. Right-hander Zach Lee (6-8, 5.07 ERA) will start for Albuquerque, while Las Vegas' starter is to be announced.
Around the Lab
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford is scheduled to play six innings in the nightcap as he begins his rehabilitation assignment with the Isotopes. ... Lefty reliever Scott Elbert, also with Albuquerque on a rehab stint, was shut down due to soreness in one of the toes on his left foot. ... To make room for Smith on the roster, catcher-first baseman Johnny Monell was placed on the disabled list with a strained left calf.