Smith adjusting to life in 66ers rotation

Lefty prospect carries no-no into fifth, helps combine on four-hitter

Nate Smith went 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 15 short-season contests in his rookie season in 2013. (Brent Asay)

By Ashley Marshall / | April 25, 2014 1:56 AM ET

The first week of Nate Smith's first full season of pro ball certainly had its ups and downs. But the Angels southpaw is quickly realizing that consistency over the long haul is the real key to success.

Life in the California League started well enough for the 6-foot-3 southpaw. He got the nod on Opening Day for Inland Empire and delivered five scoreless innings. But five days later, Smith was humbled as he allowed five first-inning runs against Rancho Cucamonga and was yanked from the game before he had recorded his second out.

Things were much more comfortable Thursday evening.

Smith gave up just two hits -- both fifth-inning singles -- and one walk while striking out six batters over seven innings in the Class A Advanced 66ers' 6-0 win over the Lancaster JetHawks.

"I was pretty pumped about that," Smith said about toeing the rubber in the first game of the new campaign. "That was awesome. For the team to get a victory like that in the first game of the season, it got us off on the right foot.

"Without a doubt [the performance against the Quakes] was humbling, but that's baseball. It's always nice when things are going well because it makes life easier, but I'm learning from my mistakes and my failures. I learned a ton in that game."

On Thursday, Smith (3-2) retired the first nine batters he faced without allowing a ball to leave the infield. Anthony Kemp drew a free pass to begin the fourth, but Smith unfurled a double-play ball to carry his no-no bid into the fifth.

Rio Ruiz ended that with a single to right field and Danry Vasquez added a base hit to center two batters later to give the JetHawks their first runner in scoring position. Smith struck out Robert Pena and got a ground ball from Dan Gulbransen to escape unharmed, beginning a stretch of eight straight outs to get through the seventh. Then he turned it over to the bullpen.

"My catcher Zach Wright and I have worked so hard and we were on the same page tonight from the get-go. That made life so much easier," Smith said. "Honestly, I would say I was much better than I have been lately. I felt a lot better on the mound.

"Fastball to both sides of the plate, my changeup was my go-to [pitch] and the slider was working well."

The outing was a good bounceback effort for the 22-year-old who surrendered 13 runs over his previous 9 1/3 innings, beginning with that wake-up call in Rancho Cucamonga.

"The main thing I'm getting used to the five-day rotation," said the Ohio native, his team's Friday starter at Furman University. "In college it was seven days, now it's five with a lot more pitches than I was throwing in the Rookie league. You have to listen to your arm."

Drafted by the Angels in the eighth round of the 2013 Draft, Smith went 2-2 in 15 games, including nine Pioneer League starts for Orem last year.

On Thursday, Inland Empire's Danny Reynolds allowed two hits over the final two innings to complete the shutout. Right fielder Chevy Clarke and Wright each hit two-run homers and second baseman Sherman Johnson reached base three times and scored once.

Lancaster's Kyle Westwood (1-1) gave up a run on four hits and a walk while striking out four batters over five frames.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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