PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Smith walked slowly off the mound after his latest failure in displaying control. As it turns out, the struggling left-hander walked his way to Triple-A Ottawa, having been optioned and replaced with lefty Fabio Castro. "I want him to go down there, work on his command and work on getting lefties out consistently," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He needs to get his confidence back. Once he starts getting those guys out, there's a good chance he'll be back."
Smith started the seventh inning of Wednesday's 9-3 win when the score was 7-2, and three of the Nationals' four scheduled hitters were left-handed. Manuel thought it would be a perfect chance for the lefty to throw strikes in a less pressure-filled situation. However, it didn't turn out that way. Smith got ahead 0-1 on Austin Kearns, then threw four straight balls. He got ahead 0-1, then 1-2 on Ryan Church before losing an eight-pitch battle with his second walk. He retired pinch-hitter Michael Restovich, and then catcher Brian Schneider, on forceouts -- Smith nearly threw the ball into center field on Schneider's come-backer -- then walked pinch-hitter D'Angelo Jimenez on four pitches. Of Smith's 23 pitches, 14 were balls, and he's walked 11 batters in four innings, forcing the move. Twice this season, has issued three free passes in an outing. A few days ago, Smith said he was nibbling too much. "I agree with that," Manuel said. "I think you can try to be too fine. What he did last year [a 2.08 ERA in 14 games] shows he can pitch in the big leagues and be a situational left-hander. It's up to him, now to work it out." Getting out key lefties falls to the 22-year-old Castro, who has posted a 3.24 ERA with the Lynx this season, and has held opponents to a .194 average. Manuel said he'll try to ease him into tough situations, mostly using righties Ryan Madson or Geoff Geary in those spots. Madson has fared better against lefties this season. "He'll get to pitch," Manuel said of Castro. "We'll put him in that role on left-hand hitters." Castro compiled a 9.24 ERA in Spring Training, and allowing 21 hits and eight walks in 12 2/3 innings, giving the Phillies no choice but to option him. He pitched much better in Triple-A. "I liked his stuff when he was up here last year," Manuel said. "I like his fastball, his curve and his change. It's a matter or him throwing strikes, too." A natural funk: Greg Dobbs was all the rage in the Grapefruit League, batting .358 with five homers and earning the easily-arrived-at nickname, "Hobbs," after Robert Redford's character in "The Natural." He hasn't found similar success yet in the National League, starting off at .174 (4-for-23). The lefty insists that he's seeing the ball great, and is proud of his approach, yet the results aren't there. "You want to make everything out of every opportunity," he said. "I have a high expectation of myself, and when I make outs, which I know I will, it doesn't sit well with me. Especially when I have a good game plan, I'm seeing the ball so well the last four or five times I've been in there." The most important of Dobbs' four hits came on April 18, when he laced a pinch-hit, two-run single against the Nationals. As Manuel, a former Major League bench player, often explains, he was once told by Dodgers manager Walter Alston to help the team win five games. "I'm lucky that I have a manager who understands that," Dobbs said. "Others in the past don't understand. He knows what I'm going through and what it entails to do this job." Dobbs also dispels the notion that he expended an enormous amount of energy making the team and that now there's somewhat of a letdown. More accurately, he says he just needs to retain that level of play. "I had to justify myself in Spring and I still feel I have to justify myself to stay here," he said. "I want to help the team win whenever I can and stay in the big leagues as long as I can. Sometimes, maybe you do get mentally exhausted. I did have a great spring, and maybe it's evening out now. The challenge for me is to try not to compact four days into one at-bat." Philling in: Geary entered the game with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, and stranded three more runners. He has stranded 17 of 18 inherited runners, leading the Majors. ... Aaron Rowand homered leading off the eighth inning, extending his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games. ... Pat Burrell's outfield assist was the team's ninth, which leads the Majors. Coming up: Righty Freddy Garcia (1-1, 4.66 ERA) is scheduled to make his third start of the season. He's coming off an outing in which he allowed two runs on four hits in five innings vs. the Reds that earned him his first win as a Phillie. Garcia has never faced the Marlins.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.