MANCHESTER, N.H. – After John Smoltz threw 60 pitches in 3 1/3 innings tonight in his second minor league rehab start, he set a crude timetable for his Red Sox debut: Three more minor league rehab starts, then join the Sox rotation.
“My radar screen has ‘Boston’ on it,” he said.
Smoltz lasted three full innings and one pitch in the fourth inning for Double A Portland. On Sunday, Smoltz will pitch five innings or 75 pitches with Single A Greenville. That much is certain.
If Smoltz continues at his current progression, he’ll wait four days, and then move up to Triple A Pawtucket. Another four days off, another start with Pawtucket. If Smoltz sticks with his schedule, his first Red Sox start would be June 16, a home game against the Florida Marlins. (His second would be five days later against the Atlanta Braves, with whom Smoltz spent the first 20 years of his career.)
“This, amongst anything else that I’ve ever done in my career, is going to take a lot of mental toughness to be patient,” Smoltz said. “I want to come out and set the world on fire, but it’s going to be patience that’s going to allow me to get to that point.”
Smoltz’s latest “rung on the ladder,” as he put it, came tonight. He allowed one run on three hits while throwing 36 of his 60 pitches – 31 more than his last start with Single A Greenville – for strikes. Smoltz fired his fastball between 89 and 91 miles per hour, “which is good,” Smoltz said.
He was pleased with his splitter and disappointed with his slider. The dry, chilly weather made Smoltz “not hump up on some pitches,” he said, which decreased the quality of the break. Overall, he was pleased.
The night began with a “hiccup,” Smoltz said. He had thrown with major league baseballs, which have higher seams than minor league balls. “There’s a big difference,” Smoltz said.
The umpires presented Smoltz Eastern League balls. “But I wasn’t going to throw the Eastern League balls,” Smoltz said. He apologized to the umpires and ultimately got the balls he wanted to throw.
Smoltz experienced another double-take once on the mound. The radar gun on the scoreboard in center field at MerchantsAuto.com Stadium (yes, really) displayed “86” on Smoltz’s first pitch, a fastball.
“What’s the deal with that gun?” Smoltz asked someone. “That thing is off, right?”
Yes, it was, he was assured. Regulars at the park know the gun is about 3-4 miles per hour slow – and he still hit 91 with one high-and-outside heater.
Smoltz recorded only one out in the fourth because he wanted get up and down and start an inning four times, but he had a limit of 65 pitches. He had thrown 59 after three innings, and he and manager Arnie Beyeler agreed he would throw to one more batter. The first pitch was popped to left.
Smoltz tipped his cap walking into the dugout to standing ovation, a sign that he was also geographically close to Boston. A standing-room-only crowd watched Smoltz, and the 8,903 fans set a record for the stadium. The dais behind which Smoltz gave his postgame news conference was crowded with microphones from 10 television stations. “Presidential speech,” he said with a laugh.
“Everywhere I’ve gone around here, it’s been unbelievable,” Smoltz said. “They keep asking the same old question: ‘When you going to be there?’ I have to temper what I’m doing. Because I can’t wait, either.”