John Smoltz: No. 7 starter

May, 27, 2009
5/27/09
10:15
AM ET
Remember John Smoltz? Well, he's on a schedule ...
 Smoltz
    If Smoltz continues at his current progression, he'll wait four days, and then move up to Triple A Pawtucket. Another four days off, another start with Pawtucket. If Smoltz sticks with his schedule, his first Red Sox start would be June 16, a home game against the Florida Marlins. (His second would be five days later against the Atlanta Braves, with whom Smoltz spent the first 20 years of his career.)

    "This, amongst anything else that I've ever done in my career, is going to take a lot of mental toughness to be patient,” Smoltz said. "I want to come out and set the world on fire, but it's going to be patience that's going to allow me to get to that point.”

    --snip--

    The night began with a "hiccup,” Smoltz said. He had thrown with major league baseballs, which have higher seams than minor league balls. "There's a big difference,” Smoltz said.

    The umpires presented Smoltz Eastern League balls. "But I wasn't going to throw the Eastern League balls,” Smoltz said. He apologized to the umpires and ultimately got the balls he wanted to throw.

    --snip--

    "Everywhere I've gone around here, it's been unbelievable,” Smoltz said. "They keep asking the same old question: 'When you going to be there?' I have to temper what I'm doing. Because I can't wait, either.”

OK, two things here:

1. They let the pitcher throw whichever balls he chooses? I suppose there might be some rule about major leaguers on rehab assignments, but this is certainly the first I've heard of such a thing.

2. In addition to asking Smoltz, "When you going to be there?" someone might ask the Red Sox, "Where does he fit into the rotation?"

Right now, the Red Sox are set in three spots with Tim Wakefield, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester. They're paying Daisuke Matsuzaka $8 million this season, and he looked pretty good last Friday in his first start since coming off the DL. And Brad Penny's 5-1 despite a 5.96 ERA (and a nondescript strikeout rate).

Obviously, Penny's the first to go. But should Smoltz be the first to come? Monday, Clay Buchholz very nearly threw a perfect game in the International League. In 25 career Triple-A starts, he's got a 2.49 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 130 innings. I'm not sure it's a stretch to suggest that he might be the third-best starter in the entire organization (behind only Beckett and Lester).

The Red Sox knew during spring training that they might wind up with six or seven good starters. They figured they might need six or seven, at some point. And so they have. But what happens if all six or seven are healthy and available at the same time? It's quite possible that we'll find out in a few weeks.

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