Jays' Smith, Diaz handle both sides of ball

Toronto's No. 19 prospect drives in five; righty ruling for Lugnuts

Kevin Smith leads the Midwest League with 17 RBIs in 15 games for Lansing. (Miguel Arcaute/Lansing Lugnuts)

By Marisa Ingemi / MiLB.com | April 24, 2018 11:25 PM

In his final game at Rookie-level Bluefield last summer, Kevin Smith drove in six runs. In his 15th game with Class A Lansing, the No. 19 Blue Jays prospect came close to matching that.

Smith drove in five runs, while Yennsy Diaz continued to dominate on the hill with five hitless innings to lead the Lugnuts to a 7-0 win over the Dragons on Tuesday at Cooley Law School Stadium.

Gameday box score

Before his career-high six-RBI night last Aug. 31, Smith had never driven in more than three runs in a game. That performance propelled the 21-year-old into his first season in Class A.

Smith drove in two runs in the first inning with a double to left field that plated Christian Williams and Kacy Clemens. He blasted a shot to left that scored Cullen Large and Williams in the third, his second homer in the Midwest League.

"He's been swinging the bat really good," Lansing manager Cesar Martin said. "He's been looking for his pitches, he's been hitting with two strikes and two outs. His swing has been good. His two first at-bats tonight were great for him."

The shortstop is hitting .276 with a 713 OPS, four doubles, a league-leading 17 RBIs and 10 runs scored. He hadn't gone yard since April 9 and his last multi-hit game came on April 11 when he went 3-for-5 at Fort Wayne.

Despite that, the Lugnuts have been happy with the way Smith's developed in the first month of his first full season. If Tuesday night is any indication, he's made some strides with his swing.

"He's been hitting better than people thought," Martin said, "because he's been working on stuff since Spring Training. He made a big adjustment, so he's been swinging the bat really good."

Diaz, who struck out five and walked four, has held opponents to a Minor League-best .054 (4-for-74) average in four starts.

"He's back in Lansing because he is also working on something," Martin said of the 21-year-old right-hander, who was 5-2 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 starts for the Lugnuts last season. "He had some trouble in the first inning, but then he made a big adjustment and started making quality pitches. He found it with his fastball -- he has a really good fastball and he uses it. He knows now how good it is."

After averaging nearly five walks per nine innings a year ago, Diaz issued three free passes in the opening frame Tuesday. But he avoid trouble by getting Reds No. 7 prospect Jeter Downs to fly out, then allowed one baserunner the rest of the way. 

"He's working on the breaking pitch command because he knows he already has a good fastball," Martin said. "It's been really good, his fastball command. That's the biggest thing for him has been locating that pitch."

Diaz has gone at least five innings in all four starts this season and the most hits he allowed was two his last time out. 

"The command of his secondary pitch is still getting there," Martin said. "The job that he's been doing, I don't think he's going to be staying here for long."

The Lugnuts didn't give up a hit until Morgan Lofstrom singled off righty Dalton Rodriguez with two outs in the seventh. Rodriguez and Brody Rodning worked two innings apiece to finish off the Lugnuts' first shutout of the season.

Marisa Ingemi is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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