When the Nationals got to John Smoltz for four runs on four hits in his very first inning in a Red Sox uniform, it didn’t shoot holes into Terry Francona’s optimism.
The curveball was too high, and so was the splitter, but, “Other than that,” Francona said, “I was really encouraged.’’
Rain ruined Smoltz second start in Baltimore, which was shaping so nicely (four innings, 52 pitchers, three hits, one run) that it reminded Francona of the Smoltz he was used to seeing.
Smoltz had his Fenway debut spoiled five days ago in large part by A’s rookie pitcher Brett Anderson, but also by a four-run fourth inning dotted by the two-out home run he allowed to Oakland’s No. 9 hitter Mark Ellis. Francona still has reason to believe Smolz will be a valuable piece to the Sox pitching puzzle – later more than sooner possible, but it will happen.
“This might not sound correct, but I’m actually really pleased with the stuff he’s shown,” Francona said. “I guess I figure if he takes what he has now and gets his legs under him – again it’s been a long time since he’s pitched every five or six days – he’s going to really be good. We’ve just got to be patient enough.”
Smoltz will take the mound for the fourth time this afternoon facing a against a Kansas City team that’s been abnormally perky through the first two games of the four-game set. The Royals lost six of seven games at Fenway last season, and had dropped 17 of 22 here since 2003. Smoltz, obviously, is still looking for his first win in a Sox uni. Francona expects several from him down the line.
“We’ve talked about in the meantime keeping us in game,” Francona said. “That rain game in Baltimore that’s a shame. Last outing was kind of peculiar. I think he felt like he pitched pretty good, but a lot of hits and runs and kind of an odd game. But I think we’re pretty pleased. I think this has got a chance to be pretty good. But in order to have that you’ve got to be patient and we know that.”