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Itching to pitch, willing to wait

By Nick Cafardo
June 14, 2009
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PHILADELPHIA - Remember way back when John Smoltz was signed, the feeling was that somehow, someway the Red Sox would find a way to get the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer into the rotation?

Well, that time is just about at hand.

As far as we know, there will be no "those things will take care of themselves" scenarios. The Sox may not know what the scenario will be quite yet, but they have told Smoltz not to worry, that they will figure it out.

Smoltz described his status as a holding pattern. Yesterday, after meeting with manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell, he said he will pitch Thursday, either for the parent club or in Triple A.

If it is with Pawtucket, then that will be it, because Smoltz's 30-day rehab assignment will end Friday. For now, Tim Wakefield, who was available in relief last night, will start Tuesday at Fenway against the Marlins. Brad Penny is scheduled to go Wednesday. And after that? Smoltz could be slotted to pitch Thursday's series finale against Florida.

"We didn't leave there with the definitive game plan," Smoltz said of the meeting in Francona's office. "I've been very open with them and they've been very open with me. I'm giving them the luxury of making the decision to do whatever they feel is best."

Smoltz agreed that he's anxious to get back on a major league mound, but said, "Each time out, I'm feeling a little bit better. Now it's a matter of making sure of the options that are available for this club.

"I couldn't be happier because the team's playing well and everyone is throwing good, and we're going to leave those options open for the next week and see what happens. There are a lot of off days.

"I'm tickled to death to be at this point vs. struggling and having to figure out when I was going to return. When I return is irrelevant for me because I know I'm on the cusp of that."

Smoltz knows the Red Sox aren't going to do what his former team, the Atlanta Braves, did with Tom Glavine - get him to the end of his rehab and then pull the plug. Glavine was incensed at the Braves after he was released following 11 scoreless rehab innings.

Smoltz has his own issues with the Braves, so he continually talked about how much he appreciated the Red Sox' honesty.

"This is clear communication," he said. "This isn't games you see other places play. They string people along and the next thing you know . . .

"I couldn't be more at ease with what's gone on. It's more refreshing this way. You don't know what two and three days and a week will hold, but they're just more prepared than any other club right now to deal with that. Everyone is on the same page.

"When I signed in Boston in the offseason, me coming back was up in the air. I'm the type of guy who wants to get out there and contribute really bad, but I also know that I want to be at the right time and the right place and the stretch drive is so important to me that I can't do anything to mess that up.

"Just to get up here and throw a game is not good enough for me. The timing of it and when it happens is really irrelevant. That's how good I feel about this process."

That's trust.

Smoltz said his meeting with Francona and Farrell didn't outline a "concrete plan," likely because the Red Sox aren't sure how they're going to solve this "problem." Daisuke Matsuzaka's start last night was surely a factor since Matsuzaka has not pitched well. How Penny performs Wednesday is also important because he has pitched so well.

There have been trade rumors involving Penny where he could be shipped to the Phillies or Mets sometime this week. There's also the flexibility Wakefield provides, though it seems less likely that with an 8-3 record the knuckleballer would be the one to go to the bullpen.

But who knows?

"It's really an ongoing plan," Smoltz said. "It could change tomorrow. Believe me, with what I've been through these last couple weeks, I'm accustomed to change. I guarantee that every organization would want to be in this position rather than rushing somebody and having someone come in to fill the gap.

"It's a very unique and great position and I'm in a very unique and great position. The way they've explained things to me has been so clear that I don't have any qualms about anything, and that's made it really easy for me."

How about Smoltz going to the bullpen?

"I threw it out there, but it's completely out of the question," he said. "They've basically told me I've done everything they've asked me to do, and preparing to start is something that I'm comfortable with.

"More important for me is that down the stretch as the games get bigger and tighter and the playoffs loom closer, that's where I want to be. I think the fact that I'm commanding the baseball is more important than any radar gun. When you command the baseball, you command the game."

It is that time. I get the feeling the Red Sox thought there would be more of a clear-cut move to create space for Smoltz. But as they say, this is a good problem to have.

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