On the day after the Red Sox’ signing of John Smoltz became public this offseason, Justin Masterson beamed at the prospect of pitching alongside his new teammate. He had heard other players rave about working with Smoltz, a Hall of Fame pitcher drafted in 1985 – the year Masterson was born – and he wanted a chance to do the same.
“He’s just as quality as I thought,” Masterson said. “You hear a lot of things surrounding him, and then he gets here, and he’s even better than you could imagine. Just the knowledge and the presence that he brings to the team, it’s just fun. I’ve enjoyed talking to him.”
Masterson also knew Smoltz could offer unique insight for his situation. On a different scale, Smoltz has been through what Masterson is handling now, straddling between starter and reliever. Masterson came into last season, his rookie year, as a starter, then became an integral late-inning reliever as the season wore.
“We’ve had some conversations, just his experience on that, the mindset he took from it,” Masterson said. “We were just sitting, chatting, talking baseball. He knew my situation a little bit.
“He said, ‘Young guys, they can get pushed to the bullpen, and then push starting out of their mind completely. Keep that fire within. I just always kept that, because I knew I could go back into that role.’ ”
His role for this season has not been finalized, Masterson said, but given the makeup of the Red Sox staff, it seems likely he will at least start the season in the bullpen. Masterson remains on a starter’s throwing program, as planned, and he said he’ll know his role one or two weeks before the regular season opens.
“He’s at a part of his career where, I was just trying to feel out what he’s feeling about the role and how the transition is going,” Smoltz said. “We talked about how mentally hard it is. A lot of people don’t understand how hard the transition is. Most people think it’s easy. It’s not. He’s done a nice job. Willingness to do the role is huge.”
Smoltz started for the first 12 seasons of his Hall of Fame career. After an injury, he came back as a closer in 2001 and saved 154 games in four seasons. In 2005, he returned the Atlanta Braves starting rotation.
“I’m a big guy in being able to try and help guys,” Smoltz said. “They’ve got to want to ask questions. If they’re willing to ask questions, then, certainly, I’m willing to give as much insight as I can.”