BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - For Brewers reliever Will Smith, the last two months have passed by slower than a river boat underneath a bridge.
Smith has not yet played in the 2016 MLB regular season after suffering a torn LCL in his right knee during spring training. The anxiety to return might be due to the fact that he had a career-best 2.70 ERA last season and planned on competing for the Brewers' closer role along with Jeremy Jeffress.
"I was living with [Jeffress] in the spring and he was the first one I told about the injury," Smith said. "He felt bad more for me than anybody else. We have a special relationship, that's for sure."
The 26-year-old retired all three batters in his final minor-league rehab appearance -- a scoreless sixth inning with Milwaukee's Double-A affiliate in Biloxi by forcing a weak pop-up, routine groundout and a strikeout looking on a backdoor breaking ball.
"You see guys with 90 mile-per-hour fastballs that still succeed," said Smith, who also tossed three shutout innings at High-A Brevard County. "It's location that helps you [in the majors]. You're always trying to refine your location, make it better with pitch selections and all that."
While the Brewers (23-27) currently sit in fourth place in the National League Central, a healthy and successful Smith would be a boost to Milwaukee's already solid bullpen, led by Jeffress (2.28 ERA, 12 saves).
Smith was acquired by Milwaukee in a trade that sent outfielder Nori Aoki to the Kansas City Royals. The left-hander has made 154 appearances in two seasons with the Brewers after mainly being a starter throughout his early minor league career.
He was actually expected to be out for much longer than two months after that bizarre injury he suffered while trying to take off a shoe. Despite coming back earlier than anticipated for manager Craig Counsell, Smith was still watching the clock hands move every day.
"I've annoyed him as much as I could to come back," Smith said. "They went 13 innings in Atlanta, and I texted Counsell saying, 'Hey skip, if you need a guy, I'm good to go.' He said he'd rather have me for 10 years, but he's just looking out for me and I'm ready to go."