Can the ‘glass body’ Birch Smith (33) and the Hanwha Eagles continue to accompany each other?
Smith was knocked out early after recording 3 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts and 2 runs in 2⅔ innings against the Gocheok Kiwoom Heroes on the 1st, which was the opening game. He threw the third pitch to Edison Russell in the third inning with two outs on first and second base, and then suddenly complained of a problem with his body and went down the mound himself. The number of pitches was only 60.
On the 3rd, Smith had an X-ray and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) 메이저사이트of his right shoulder at two orthopedic clinics in Seoul, and as a result of the examination, he was diagnosed with ‘minor damage to the muscles that did not significantly affect pitching’. Smith, who does not accompany the Daegu expedition this week and remains in Daejeon to rest, plans to start playing catch this weekend or early next week. He seems to be able to skip a rotation or two and return right away if there is nothing wrong with him.
The result of the examination came out as a non-serious injury, but Hanwha still has no choice but to be anxious. It’s because of Smith’s past injury history. Smith is a glass body who has been on the injured list from time to time due to injuries to his fingers, forearm, elbow, side, and groin throughout his career in the United States.
Hanwha was also aware of Smith’s injury history, but received a medical check and found that there was nothing wrong, and his pitch was so attractive that he boldly invested 1 million dollars, the maximum amount for a new foreign player. Smith seemed to live up to expectations with an outstanding record of 1 win in 3 games, 1.42 ERA, and 15 strikeouts in 12⅔ innings in demonstration games. However, the injury issue, which he had been concerned about since his first game, got in the way.
What makes Hanwha even more uneasy is that Smith’s self-improvement is very similar to what he showed in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) last year. Smith, who played for the Seibu Lions in the 2022 season, raised expectations by recording a no-hit no-run in 7 innings against the Chiba Lotte Marines, which was his debut game on April 19th. However, on April 28, the very next game, against the Softbank Hawks, after one shot in the second inning, he complained of pain in his right side and voluntarily gave up.
After a hiatus of about two months, Smith returned to Softbank on July 2nd, recording 6 innings and 1 run, seemingly announcing a revival. However, another week later, on July 9, in a game against Rakuten Golden Eagles, he felt discomfort in his fingers in the 5th inning and voluntarily gave up. Smith, who eventually returned a month later, played only with the bullpen and finished the season with 1 win, 4 holds and 1 save in 20 games (38⅓ innings) with an ERA of 3.29.
Thanks to his good form in the second half, it seemed possible to stay, but Smith, who wanted to be selected, could not renew the contract due to a difference of opinion with the Seibu club, who wanted to use him as a bullpen. There were suggestions from other teams in Japan, but Smith chose Hanwha, who evaluated his value as the first starter.
There would be no problem if Smith returned healthy, but Hanwha was in a situation where they had to start a plan B early because of Smith’s appearance, which made them feel the déjà vu of their NPB days. Last season, foreign pitchers Nick Kingham and Ryan Carpenter were both out of power due to injuries, and Hanwha suffered great difficulties.