Smoltz starts against Charlotte
By Howard Ulman
PAWTUCKET, R.I. ó John Smoltz’s long journey back is nearly over.
Major shoulder surgery, nearly 12 months without a game and six rehab starts are behind him. The final test of the 42-year-old’s patience: more than a week before he steps on a big-league mound for his first game with the Boston Red Sox.
“It’s going to be that long eight days,” Smoltz said. “I’m prepared for that. It’s been a long year.”
The eight-time All-Star is scheduled to start next Thursday at Washington. In his final scheduled tuneup, he pitched four innings for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox on Wednesday night, giving up one run on Keith Ginter’s leadoff homer for the Charlotte Knights in the third.
Smoltz allowed three hits, one walk and a wild pitch and struck out two on 61 pitches, 36 strikes. He also pitched the equivalent of two innings in the bullpen before the game.
“I just lost the feel for the baseball and struggled with that,” he said, “but, overall, physically, I felt great. … I’m not a guy that doesn’t throw his fastball pretty much where he wants to and my split was all over, so it was a little bit of a struggle feel-wise.”
Smoltz said he was encouraged that he adjusted when he didn’t have his best stuff in Pawtucket’s 9-3 win over the Knights, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. His overall rehab numbers starting May 21 with Single-A Greenville, S.C., were impressive: 271/3 innings, 18 hits, 21 strikeouts, 4 walks and a 2.63 ERA.
Smoltz plans to throw two side sessions and study video before facing the Nationals. Boston manager Terry Francona said Tuesday it wouldn’t be “the worst thing” to use a six-man rotation for a short time.
“It looks like sometimes guys are going to throw 120 pitches maybe or 115 and have that extra day (off) to be able to do that,” Smoltz said. “Maybe that’s part of it. I don’t know.”
He retired the first five batters Wednesday on 14 pitches, then allowed a single to Wilson Betemit before striking out Cole Armstrong to end the second. Then Ginter, who totaled 33 homers with Milwaukee in 2003 and 2004, lined a 91 mph pitch over the left-center field fence and onto a grassy hill filled with fans seated on blankets.
Smoltz’s next game will be in a Boston uniform.
“While I’m there I lead the team in innings watched from the dugout,” Smoltz said, “but soon it’ll change.”