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Friday, August 7, 2009
Smoltz mulling options after being cut

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John Smoltz may have thrown the last pitch of his storied career.

The Boston Red Sox cut the struggling Smoltz on Friday, a day after the New York Yankees sent the 42-year-old righty to yet another early exit.

Smoltz is taking some time to mull his options -- and one option is returning to the minors for Boston, in an effort to transition into a relief role, ESPN baseball analyst Eduardo Perez reports.

Smoltz, 42, met with Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. His base salary is $5.5 million, and on top of that, according to the terms of his contract, Smoltz was receiving about $35,000 for every day he's on the roster. The Red Sox have the option of passing Smoltz through waivers and assuming he won't get claimed. He could conceivably be called up late to pitch out of the Boston bullpen.

But Perez reports the Red Sox have asked Smoltz to restructure his contract so that if he returns, he won't receive the $35,000 for every day he is on the roster. Even if Smoltz agreed to this -- and there is no indication he would -- this type of language would have to be approved by the Players Association.

"When he woke up today, he said, 'How can I help the team win?" Epstein said. "But he's a realist and understands the results have not been what we were looking for."

After more than two decades with Atlanta, Smoltz signed with the Red Sox in January, hoping he could recover from surgery on his right shoulder. After eight starts, the numbers were not pretty for a pitcher with Hall of Fame credentials: 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA.

Boston made the move while in a three-way race with the Yankees and Tampa Bay, and with Smoltz still searching for answers after one of the worst outings of his career.

"Pretty humbled right now, the way things have gone," Smoltz said Thursday night, after the Yankees chased him in the fourth inning of a 13-6 romp. "Time may not be on my side if this continues."

He was right. The eight-time All-Star was not at his locker at Yankee Stadium, though his No. 29 jersey hung in his cubicle and his shower flip-flops were in his stall.

"He's certainly not a quitter, that's one thing he's not," Epstein said. "So it never entered his mind to stop pitching."

Said Red Sox manager Terry Francona: "I think we appreciated what his pedigree and past was, and respected it a lot.

"Just got to a point where we needed to help our team to be better."

Boston began the day in second place in the AL East, with a rotation minus injured Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, and made a series of roster moves. They also designated lefty reliever Billy Traber for assignment, recalled right-hander Junichi Tazawa from Triple-A Pawtucket and claimed infielder Chris Woodward off waivers from Seattle.

The Red Sox made a series of roster moves. They also designated lefty reliever Billy Traber for assignment, recalled right-hander Junichi Tazawa from Triple-A Pawtucket and claimed infielder Chris Woodward off waivers from Seattle.

Smoltz started with two scoreless innings against the Yankees before fading. They tagged him for eight runs on nine hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings.

"Even though he got hit, there was some cleanness starting to appear," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said.

At 212-152 with 154 saves and a 3.32 ERA, Smoltz compiled a glittering résumé after making his major league debut in 1988.

Along with aces Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz helped Atlanta to its only World Series championship, won a Cy Young Award and is the only pitcher with more than 200 victories and 150 saves.

Maddux retired after last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Glavine, like Maddux in his 40s and a 300-game winner, was abruptly cut by Atlanta in June before making his major league return.

"He and Glav and Maddux, they were the Big Three," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said Friday night. "John was always a big-game pitcher, a workhorse and a great teammate. When you see a kid like that start out, you say, `He's an All-Star caliber-type pitcher that's going to have some big years.' And he did.

"I was kind of surprised, but I know it was a rough day yesterday. I watched him pitch for three innings. But everybody's looking for pitching right now, whether it be bullpen or starters, so I think John will be given another opportunity somewhere."

Smoltz was one of the best pressure pitchers of his era, going 15-4 with four saves and a 2.65 ERA in the postseason. It was precisely his ability to win those clutch games that prompted the Red Sox to sign him to a $5.5 million, one-year contract, even though they knew it'd take a while before he pitched for them.

Smoltz worked his way back through the minors, then got hit hard by Washington on June 25 in his Red Sox debut.

Seemingly intent on throwing hard and inside, Smoltz started well Thursday night. In the first inning, he got Derek Jeter on a grounder and struck out Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez.

"He ran into a really hot team last night," Damon said Friday. "I hope there's more baseball left for him."

The Yankees chased Smoltz with an eight-run burst in the fourth. Melky Cabrera hit a three-run homer, and Smoltz handed the ball to Francona after an intentional walk to Rodriguez.

"I'm not doing it right now," Smoltz said later. "I'm a big enough man to stand up here and say I'm not doing it."

ESPN baseball analyst Eduardo Perez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.