By most measures, Jordan Smith has had a fine rookie season for the Cincinnati Reds. He’s compiled a 3.32 ERA in 37.1 innings out of the bullpen, with 22 strikeouts against only nine walks. He’s even racked up a save.
On Monday, however, he learned a valuable lesson in rookie comportment.
In what was by far his worst appearance as a big leaguer—and probably his worst appearance ever—Smith threw nine pitches to two batters, only one of which was a strike. After walking the second man, he was removed by manager Dusty Baker.
Which is pretty much where things fell apart. On his way off the field, Smith decided to have a chat about the strike zone with plate ump John Hirschbeck.
At this point he would have been well served to observe the first rule of rookiedom (generally more valid in years past than today, but still rock-solid when it comes to umpires): Don’t speak unless spoken to.
Words led to shouting; shouting led to ejection. (Watch it here.)
With his display of ill temper, Smith undoubtedly made it more difficult for himself the next time he sees Hirschbeck. Much like veteran players, many umps like to test rookies, just a little, to see what they’re made of.
“The longer you play, the more rope you get,” said Andy Van Slyke, describing the phenomenon.
Whether Hirschbeck had been intentionally squeezing Smith is unclear, but there’s certainly precedent to fall back on.
Take Wade Miller. In the pitcher’s major league debut for Houston in 1999, a start against Arizona, umpire Rich Rieker was being extremely judicious with his strike calls.
After one pitch that split the plate was called a ball, Miller gave the ump a protracted glare. That was all his catcher, Randy Knorr, needed to see. He quickly trotted out for a mound visit.
“I said, ‘Wade, man, just get through today. If you get through today, you’ll be fine. Just don’t show up the umpire. He’s testing you. I’m trying to work him back there, don’t be snapping the ball on him or anything like that.’ ”
Miller ended up allowing seven runs over three innings, but ultimately passed the test. The final batter he faced, Arizona pitcher Brian Anderson, was called out on strikes.
“As he walked off the field,” said Knorr, “I think the umpire said, ‘Good job, Wade.’ ”