After the surgery: There’s no guarantee he’ll make the team. But the righty hasn’t had a bad day yet.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Carson Smith was always supposed to be back with the Red Sox in 2019, but for the talented right-hander, this wasn’t the way anybody had planned it out.
Smith, 29 and holding a sparkling 2.21 career ERA in 102 major league innings, hasn’t thrown a baseball since May 14, when he departed a game against the Oakland A’s after giving up a solo home run to Khris Davis over an inning’s work.
He walked down the dugout steps and threw his glove against the wall. Many players have done this, and worse, for decades to unload frustration after a rough outing. But this time it cost him — he felt his shoulder pop out of place. The result was a subluxation that needed surgery, and the prognosis is a 12-18 month recovery period.
It was just about the worst-case scenario.
The Red Sox took him off the roster after the season, Smith elected free agency and, instead of returning to the team as a late-inning set-up option, Smith landed just a minor league deal, back with the Red Sox again, this time with no guaranteed major league salary.
“I just take it in stride and know that this is a long process,” he told the Herald from the JetBlue Park. “But I haven’t had a bad day yet. ... Just to stay positive throughout the whole thing is tough. I’ve done it once before with Tommy John. I know there are going to be ups and downs.
“I had a few options in the offseason looking for a team to play for, ultimately choosing the Red Sox, it came down to the training staff here, which is just incredible. The main focus this year is just getting healthy, whatever I can contribute is icing on the cake after that. I’m just looking forward to getting healthy.”
After most of the pitchers were done throwing bullpen sessions on Tuesday, Smith went out to the mound with a member of the training staff and a towel in his powerful right arm. Instead of throwing a baseball, he threw the towel, simulating the motion without putting much stress on his shoulder.
Next week, the pitcher who once possessed one of the nastiest sinker-slider combination in the game will be back on the mound, this time with a baseball in his hand.
“I’ve felt good for the past good couple months, I’ve felt ready to throw, but unfortunately with this process you want to get everything perfect before you start throwing,” he said.
“I think just going with the training staff, I’ve been here for a couple weeks now. I think we’ve targeted a day next week to actually throw a baseball.”
In 23 2/3 innings over parts of three injury-plagued seasons with the Red Sox, Smith has a 2.66 ERA and 27 strikeouts.
There’s no way Smith can compete for a late-inning role this spring. Based on the prognosis the doctor gave him, he could miss the entire 2019 season. But he has another goal in mind.
“I just want to be back in the big leagues (this year),” he said. “I know some will say that will be a tough goal to achieve the first year. I’m hoping it’s closer to 12 months and I’m hoping back to the pitcher I was sooner than later.”
As far as his relationship with the coaching staff, particularly Red Sox manager Alex Cora, Smith says everything has been smoothed over.
There was a misunderstanding after he was injured last year. Though he took responsibility for the injury, he also mentioned fatigue as a reason why his shoulder might’ve popped out.
Cora publicly disputed that notion that Smith was over-worked, and the two had a private conversation afterwards.
“I know what happened with AC last year,” Smith said. “I don’t think it was portrayed the right way, whether it was my words or the media’s words. I talked to him and he texted me right when I signed welcoming me back. (Pitching coach) Dana LeVangie, he’s one of the best in the business. I’ve dealt with him since my first year here and he’s been a big supporter throughout the process. It goes down the list.”
Smith said he has no regrets for what was said last year.
“No, not specifically,” he said. “I think words might’ve gotten twisted. I talked to (Cora), we cleaned it up then I made sure the air was clear and made sure he knew what I meant and what was said. It was a big misunderstanding. We’ve talked through it. And I think we’ve come to an agreement on things and he knows I didn’t mean to come off the way it actually came off.”
Now he’s back with the organization a second time, trying to regain trust in the organization and prove worthy of begin a big leaguer once again.
“I haven’t tried to align all the stars but I do believe everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I think there’s a sweet ending to it.”