John Smoltz throws this morning in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Josh Beckett, out with Jon Lester to watch John Smoltz throw his first bullpen of his tenure with the Red Sox, paid a high compliment to his fellow starter. As Smoltz relayed it, “Josh said I made a nice adjustment on the next pitch. Probably the best adjustment he’s ever seen anyone make.”
That came after, on the 12th pitch of a 40-pitch, all-fastball bullpen, Smoltz tried to let one fly, had the ball slip out of his grip, and fall down harmlessly on the mound.
Sure, it made pitching coach John Farrell pause for a second. But once he saw the expression on Smoltz’s face, he knew the pitcher was fine.
“I probably have that happen once a side session,” Smoltz said. “I’m trying to not grip the ball, trying to grip it as light as I can, and every once in a while, that happens.”
As for the pitches that did make it to catcher Dusty Brown, Smoltz and Farrell seemed mostly pleased with the bullpen session. There was not all that much that could have been expected, as it was his first since early December when he threw the side session that got him signed to the Sox. Smoltz estimated his intensity at about 70 percent today.
“It was more a matter of repeating his delivery, controlling his intensity level, which I think he did very well,” Farrell said. “I think he felt good coming away from it. He’s dealing with the subtleties of adjustments in his delivery. Today was the first day he’s thrown a bullpen of this structure since early December, so there’s going to be some familiarity to regain with the mound and the intricacies with his delivery.”
Farrell added that the progression now has Smoltz in a two-week period of bullpens every third day, leading into throwing batting practice the third week.
But it wasn’t all perfect for the pitcher.
“I didn’t think it would be that awkward,” Smoltz said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, but it was awkward. Because I’ve not gone that long without being on the mound. I look forward to the month worth . . . of mounds and bullpens.”
The awkwardness came from the change to throwing the ball down. So far, Smoltz has only been playing long toss and throwing 15 pitches per session off a mound to a standing catcher. So throwing downward was a change for him, including in terms of his release point. He also had some trouble with a wet mound.
“All I cared [about] was getting the ball to the catcher,” he said. “But in my mind I was trying to hit the outside corner and the inside corner, but that’s for times to come. I’ve got to remind myself. I’m a pretty hard critic. It’s allowed me to be the kind of pitcher I’ve been in the sense that I don’t take lightly anything that I do, but I’m a pretty hard critic.”
Smoltz will throw again on Saturday. He said he expects to throw some breaking balls into the mix on that day. He’s also likely to throw more out of the stretch.
Though he said he didn’t think about it much the night before, Smoltz was clearly happy to have gotten past this step in his rehab. There’s a long way to go before June, when he’s expected to return to the mound in a regular season game, but it’s also been a long way to get to this point.
“In my mind I still think about pitching,” he said, of how hard it’s been this spring. “That’s what keeps me from going crazy. The hardest part is watching games, watching guys throw BP, watching guys throw bullpens. ‘Cause I want to do it.”