PHOENIX - Dwight Smith Jr. used to be hitless in 33 at-bats and looking every bit like a player in a deep funk.
Smith is a changed man. Hits in his last four games. A single and three-run homer last night in a 7-2 win. A hot streak that seemed to come out of nowhere.
“I just kept working hard,” he said. “It’s just baseball. I was coming back from injury, so I was just getting timing back. And me struggling mentally and physically, it was a lot, but I had good teammates and good supporting family back home. They had me keep staying positive and things would turn around.”
Smith began to sense that his season was turning back around during the Red Sox series at Camden Yards.
“I would say the Boston series we just had, I felt like I’ve had some good at-bats as of late,” he said. “A couple of them got robbed - Jackie Bradley took a hit from me. I felt like I’ve been not really swinging out of the zone as much, so I’ve just been making an adjustment and not trying to do too much.”
Don’t underestimate the importance of improving the mental side.
“It’s just confidence, you know? Just confidence,” said manager Brandon Hyde.
“Even that homestand he swung the bat good the last day. Even the two games before that I thought he had some good swings. Lined out to center once, hit a hard ground ball to the third baseman. Me and Don (Long) talked about it after that. He really stayed on the ball good and since then he’s squaring the ball up. So taking really good at-bats.”
* Dylan Bundy ran his pitch count to 58 through two innings and surrendered a two-run single to pitcher Merrill Kelly, the right-hander’s first major league hit. But Bundy retired nine in a row and worked through the sixth while shutting out the Diamondbacks the rest of the way.
The Diamondbacks kept taking his fastball for strikes.
“Maybe looking for other stuff, I guess. I don’t know,” he said.
“I felt good with the heater after that second inning or so. Trying to locate it as best as I could.”
Seven runs’ worth of support also aided Bundy.
“It’s great,” he said. “Any time your team can get a lead, it makes it a little easier on a starting pitcher. You can just go out there and attack. After that second inning, that’s what I was trying to do.”
“Dylan was awesome,” Smith said. “He said he was going to go out there and get seven, and he didn’t get that because of his pitch count, but he told me to get him at least three runs. I was just trying to do that, trying to get him some run support so he can do his job, make it a little bit easier on him.”
Bundy said he was fine physically after coming off the injured list yesterday afternoon.
“Knee felt great,” he said. “They didn’t want me on the bases today. That’s my reason I didn’t touch the ball today. They didn’t want me to run with what happened last year and the tendinitis.”
* The Orioles have won 10 of their last 20 games. They’ve been sneaky improved.
Is that part of the rebuild?
“I think we’re just playing all parts of the game: timely hitting, better pitching, bullpen is coming in and shutting the door,” Bundy said. “It’s a mix of everything. That’s what it takes to win in the big leagues, and we’re doing a better job.”
Said Smith: “I feel like, as the days go by, guys are getting more confidence and playing. It seems like they’re trusting their ability more and kind of figuring out their role and seeing what kind of player they really are at this level. It’s always good to see that, and that’s why we’ve been playing pretty well as of late.”
Armstrong retired all six batters he faced, recording two strikeouts. He was downright nasty, the product of a minor mound adjustment.
“They just tweaked his delivery a little bit,” Hyde said. “Ninety-six on the gun. That was the best I’ve seen his fastball all year. That was electric. And I think you saw from some of those swings, guys were really tardy. Ball was jumping out of his hand. And throwing strikes, getting ahead and throwing strikes with a really good fastball. So that was great to see.”
* Left-hander John Means makes his 17th start today as the Orioles close out the series and a third of their West Coast trip.
Means rebounded from a rough outing against the Rays - six runs in six innings - by holding the Red Sox to two over six innings.
Left-handed hitters are slashing .165/.211/.341 against Means and right-handers are batting .243/.303/.414.
The Diamondbacks are starting right-hander Taylor Clarke, a third-round pick in 2015 out of the College of Charleston who also pitched at Towson University.
Clarke tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, learned that Towson was eliminating its baseball program and transferred.
The program was saved. So, too, was Clarke.
In 11 games (10 starts) as a rookie, Clarke has gone 2-3 with a 6.50 ERA and 1.642 WHIP over 45 2/3 innings but is 5-for-17 with a home run at the plate.
Right-handed hitters are 29-for-84 (.345) against him.
Clarke hasn’t completed four innings in three of his last four starts and four of six.
* Former Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph was optioned to Triple-A Reno before the Orioles arrived in Phoenix, but he’s actually in Arizona waiting for his broken left middle finger to heal.
Joseph suffered the injury a week ago while blocking a ball in the dirt. He was catching the remainder of a suspended game that began while he was in the majors.
Joseph has played in 13 games with the Diamondbacks and gone 4-for-28 with two doubles. He threw out two of three runners attempting to steal.
Most impressive are the 1 1/3 scoreless innings that he threw in two relief appearances, retiring all four batters that he faced.
Joseph was batting .268/.333/.537 with 10 doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 37 games with Reno.
The Diamondbacks signed Joseph to a split contract that pays $1.1 million in the majors and $250,000 in the minors. They hold an option for 2020.