WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Success hasn't spoiled Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Roy Smith. Just ask the bag boys at Publix grocery store.
"I still hang out with the same people, my same buddies from the grocery store," Smith said.
The former grocery store clerk, Wal-Mart furniture salesman and apartment-complex security guard turned to a sidearm delivery after six frustrating minor-league seasons and worked his way to the big leagues last year.
He has struggled this spring, including Tuesday when he gave up two earned runs on two hits, a walk and hit two batters in one inning. He did manage to strike out the side to close a 12-8 win against the Houston Astros.
Smith, 25, is competing with Jerrod Riggan, David Riske and Mark Wohlers to join veteran Paul Shuey in the Cleveland bullpen's right-handed setup role.
"I don't know how many spots there are, or if there are any," Smith said. "That's one of those things you can't control. I don't have any big expectations. The main thing is, I'm still playing baseball and having fun doing it."
Smith was the surprise of camp last spring. This year, he is attempting to refine the approach that got him there.
"The biggest thing I learned last year was to trust my stuff," Smith said. "There had to come a time where I could believe my sinker would sink, my slider would slide and my change-up would change."
Since the 2000 season, Smith has a 2.80 ERA and two saves at Class A Kinston, a 1.96 ERA and six saves at Class AA Akron and 2.19 ERA and 18 saves at Class AAA Buffalo.
Smith did not fare as well in nine big-league appearances last season with a 6.06 ERA, but did manage to strike out 17 in 16 1/3 innings.
"You can't get the experience of pitching to big-league hitters anywhere else but in the big leagues," he said.
Smith did not abandon the standard over-the-top throwing motion until the final day of spring training with the independent St. Paul Saints in 1999. His fastball velocity climbed from 87 mph to 93 mph within weeks of that change.
"It was like I was born to throw that way," he said.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Ellis Burks and Greg LaRocca homered Tuesday as the Cleveland Indians defeated the Houston Astros 12-8.
Astros starter Wade Miller was pounded for six runs and nine hits in four-plus innings. He had been scheduled to pitch five innings.
"I was just leaving the balls up in the zone," Miller said. "Any time you do that against any team, they're going to hit you."
Cleveland has 18 hits, including six doubles. The Indians' Omar Vizquel went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a double.
"Stuff OK, location off, and that could happen," Astros manager Jimy Williams said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)