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Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Updated: September 4, 1:21 AM ET
Smoltz returns to old league, finds old form

ESPN.com

Al Bello/Getty Images

John Smoltz is 1-0 with an 0.82 in two starts since joining the St. Louis Cardinals.

By Rick Sutcliffe, ESPN

John Smoltz, who takes the mound Thursday and makes his third start with the Cardinals after a rough go in Boston, will do well in St. Louis. In fact, I made a friendly wager with my colleague Dave O'Brien.

When Smoltz was released by the Red Sox, I thought he'd end up in Los Angeles or St. Louis. At this point in his career, numbers don't mean much. All he cares about is another chance to get to the postseason. I've talked to him a couple of times this year, and I could see the desire in his eyes. Heck, with 53 years and a battle with cancer behind me, I still have a desire to go out there. I don't care what anybody says. I still feel that way. But, the thing is, I lost my desire to prepare to play. That's the difference between me and what Smoltz is feeling these days. He still has the desire to do what it takes to prepare to succeed on the mound.

Early in his career, Smoltz could get away on stuff alone. Now he can't. His velocity is what it is. He's a guy who is going to have to locate, and he has the ability to do that.

It really is a great situation for him in St. Louis. There are several possible factors for his lack of success in Boston. It might have been, as Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said recently, that he was tipping his pitches. It might have been from playing in the American League East, by far the toughest division in baseball in which to pitch. It could have been his age. It may very well have been all of the above. Moving back to the National League is going to help him. You get that break with the pitcher batting every time through the lineup.

It's a plus that he ended up with legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan. I was with Dave Stewart recently, and we started naming names of the guys Duncan has helped out. We went on and on: Dennis Eckersley, Bob Welch, Kent Bottenfield, Storm Davis, Chris Carpenter, Darryl Kile. Stewart said that for each pitcher, Duncan generally keys on one thing. For him, he said, it was between the ears. Everybody knows Duncan talked him into throwing the fork ball, but he said Duncan taught him to "see" the game rather than just watch it, if that makes sense.

Another interesting thing Duncan does is that when a starter throws on the side, he brings all the other starters with him. They stand there and look for things. Can they see a difference in the guy's release point with his breaking ball and his fastball? Do they see him doing anything different with his body when he throws a changeup? That way there are five sets of eyes on the pitcher every time he throws. The fact that Duncan gets input from the guys in the rotation shows you that his ego isn't so big that he thinks he has all the answers.

St. Louis is almost universally considered a great baseball town, and everyone got to see that this summer with the red carpet it rolled out for the All-Star Game. St. Louis dusted off that carpet again when Smoltz rolled into town; fans there know to appreciate a guy with his accomplishments.

I have no doubt that Smoltz will have an opportunity to win a playoff game with the Cardinals. With his experience, he could be the fourth man in their playoff rotation or he could even be their seventh-inning, eighth-inning or ninth-inning guy. I think Boston and St. Louis both made the right move, both for themselves and for Smoltz. There is no question in my mind that he'll be on that playoff roster if he's healthy.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Sept. 1 | Aug. 31 | Aug. 30 | Aug. 27 | Aug. 26

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Nelson Cruz, TEX30RichmondBot 6: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Derrek Lee, CHC27PaulinoBot 4: 0-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Dan Uggla, FLA25VazquezBot 3: 2-1, 1 Out. 1 on.
Paul Konerko, CWS24NathanTop 9: 3-2, 2 Outs. None on.
Brandon Phillips, CIN19DukeBot 4: 0-0, 1 Out. None on.

The complete list of Wednesday's homers

ON DECK: THURSDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Giants at Phillies, 7:05 p.m. ET

An aging Cy Young winner (Pedro Martinez) and the young, reigning Cy Young winner (Tim Lincecum) meet. Martinez should be well-rested; he pitched only two innings in his most recent start because of rain delays. Lincecum tossed eight shutout innings against Colorado in his most recent start.

Red Sox at Rays 7:08 p.m. ET

Clay Buchholz is settling in to his spot in the Red Sox's rotation, going 2-0 in his past three starts. David Price hopes to inch the Rays a bit closer to Boston in the AL wild-card race. Price is coming off his best month of the year; he went 3-2 with a 3.73 ERA in August.

Braves at Marlins, 7:10 p.m. ET

Tommy Hanson went 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA in August, showing no signs of wearing down. His one loss came versus Philadelphia, against which he gave up one run in two innings before rain delays forced him and Pedro Martinez out of the game. Two starts ago, Ricky Nolasco was hit hard by the Braves, giving up nine hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings.

For the rest of Thursday's schedule, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: THURSDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
12 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Fernando Vina, Tim Kurkjian

BBTN MINUTE: PEDRO VS. LINCECUM

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he takes a look at Brad Penny, who pitched eight shutout innings against the Phillies in his debut with the Giants:

8+ shutout innings in debut with Giants
Since team moved to S.F. (1958)

Brad Penny* 2009
Mike Remlinger 1991
Juan Marichal* 1960

* Against Phillies

WEB GEMS

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Ted LillyBrad Penny wasn't the only pitcher to toss eight shutout innings on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Ted Lilly blanked the Astros over eight innings, allowing four hits and striking out five without issuing a walk in a 2-0 win. It was Lilly's first win since July 11.
WORST
Jim Johnson• The Orioles trailed by only a run heading into the ninth inning against the Yankees at Camden Yards. Then things fell apart. The Baltimore bullpen gave up seven hits and seven runs in the inning for a 10-2 loss. The worst of the bunch was Jim Johnson, who didn't record an out, but gave up three hits, two walks and five runs.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

John SmoltzJohn Smoltz has really found his off-speed pitches (especially his slider) again in his two starts with the Cardinals. Opposing batters are just 5-for-32 against his non-fastballs. The .156 batting average is nearly 100 points lower than the .252 opponent batting average against non-fastballs in his eight starts with the Red Sox.

John Smoltz non-fastballs (2009)

Red Sox Cardinals
BA against .252 .156*
OBP against .304 .152
SLG against .374 .188
Strikeout pct. against 19.8 45.5

* 3-for-20 vs. slider (.150)

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF THURSDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy AJ Mass examines the 10 games on Thursday's slate.

Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Thursday. Daily Notes

HUNT FOR OCTOBER

Here's the latest in the wild-card races:

AL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Red Sox 77-55 -- 78.2%
Rangers 75-58 2.5 32.5%
Rays 72-60 5.0 8.1%
NL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Rockies 74-59 -- 58.4%
Giants 73-60 1.0 29.9%

For more on all the playoff races, see the Hunt for October