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Heavy rotation

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff May 28, 2009 08:20 AM

So, what to take from John Smoltzís rehab stint the other night in Manchester, N.H.?

While initial accounts seemed pretty positive, Foxsports.com has a different angle, quoting two major league scouts who werenít impressed with the future Hall of Famerís stuff.

"His velocity was 87 to 90 mph,Ē one scout said. ďHe still throws five decent pitches. But he's probably a fourth starter at this point unless his arm speed and fluidness comes back and his velocity takes a jump."

Wait, he wasnít going to be the ace?

"I wouldn't say he's a sure thing,Ē a second scout said. ĒHe'll certainly be able to go to the big leagues and compete. As far as him holding up, I don't know. With these surgeries, it's hard to project and predict."

So is a Daisuke Matsuzaka fastball.

Itís important to keep in mind that this was just Smoltzís second rehab start since coming back from last yearís shoulder surgery. So, if indeed he didnít floor a couple scouts by having midseason stuff on the hill, does it really spark reason for concern? Probably not.

But if a less-than-stellar Smoltz makes the rotation in front of the now-dazzling Clay Buchholz with greater career credentials, yet lesser present potential? Well, thatís a bit worrisome.

ESPN.comís Rob Neyer writes:

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.

As if you didnít know, hereís the list:

Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
Matsuzaka
Brad Penny
Tim Wakefield
Smoltz
Buchholz

ďThese things have a way of working themselves outĒ aside, thatís a crowded rotation with little wiggle room.

Odds are that Penny is indeed on the trading block (as of June 15), but does anyone think itís going to be as simple as dealing him the same day Smoltz comes back? In a perfect world, itís an even swap. But with 45 days to go before the trading deadline, some teams on the cusp of remaining in competition may be swayed by seeing what happens before surrendering even the B-type player that Penny figures to command.

Beckett, obviously, isnít going anywhere, and Wakefield isnít going to the bullpen, so you can stop that right now. Maybe the team can come up with some phantom injury for Lester in order to sort the chips a bit more smoothly. The Matsuzaka situation is a bit more complex. After all, last night was his best start of the season, and he only threw four wild pitches, and was out of the game after five having already thrown to the plate 102 times. Some things never change. But with a full no-trade clause at Matsuzakaís disposal, those nights are here to stay. Hide the kids.

When guys like Smoltz and Buchholz are waiting in the wings, it makes watching what we saw from Sox starters the last two nights all the more pivotal and compelling. After all, Smoltz will be with the club, and Buchholz should be. Only one is a definite. But there also just so happen to be two guys in the rotation not currently carrying their weight.

Where you go from there, well, good luck with that.

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