Smoltz optimistic about June comeback
Recovery timeline slower than expected, but not that far off
ST. PETERSBURG -- In the middle of a brief break from his throwing program, Red Sox right-hander John Smoltz now concedes that the June 1 timeline for entering the rotation that had been in place for several months won't be met. However, Smoltz doesn't feel as if he will be that far behind his original plan.
"But June is [still] very realistic," Smoltz said. "I set timetables with the utmost desire to accomplish them, not just because they are easy to set. Way back in the press conference, I said, whatever the scenario is, my job is to get to this point and help them down the stretch and really fulfill what they've asked me to do. I have no doubts that will be part of the process."
After spending a couple of weeks at extended spring camp in Fort Myers, Fla., Smoltz rejoined his teammates at Tropicana Field on Saturday. He will stay with the Red Sox for a bit and ramp back up under the team's training staff.
Before putting the brakes on, Smoltz made a two-inning simulated start in Fort Myers. Why the stoppage?
"I've been throwing a baseball for so long," said Smoltz. "I know when I'm sharp, I know when I'm on, and I was just a little bit off. I had been burning through the program, really getting excited about getting to that rehab start that I probably was pretty eager to get to that, and I accomplished it. But, I think, had I kept going, I might have dealt with a slowdown later. It's the best thing to happen now, so that when I engage in these four-, five- and six-inning games, we'll look back and say, 'That was a blessing.'"
Smoltz, who at the age of 41 still discusses pitching with the enthusiasm of a 21-year-old, doesn't plan on being down for long. He is in the middle of restructuring his program with the training staff and plans on picking up a baseball again by Wednesday or Thursday.
Once Smoltz is cleared to go back out on the rehab trail, he estimates making about three Minor League outings before joining the Boston rotation.
"What I plan on doing, with their help, is giving them the timetable and saying, 'I'm ready.' Usually, when a player says they're ready, they give you one more," Smoltz said. "That's usually the way it works."
Smoltz underwent right shoulder surgery for the first time in his career last June, so his comeback puts him a little bit in uncharted waters. But he's been encouraged by his arm strength and the quality of his stuff.
"That's been the hardest part for me," Smoltz said. "Two months ago, it was fantastic. Believe me, I understand the whole process. That's what's so hard for me. I've stayed patient. But along with that, it means you can never lose that patience. You have to stay patient throughout the whole process."
The main motivation for the Red Sox in signing Smoltz was for the veteran to be a key contributor in crunch time. That is why they've put him on a conservative program.
"I think he actually feels pretty good," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think he's had his days where he's frustrated, because he wants to be pitching. That's why he's still pitching. I think he doesn't feel one bit less optimistic about being good than he ever did. That was the one thing he kept saying."
Daisuke Matsuzaka cleared the final hurdle before his Triple-A start on Tuesday for Pawtucket, throwing a side session under the watch of pitching coach John Farrell before Saturday's game. ... Rocco Baldelli (left hamstring) will DH for Pawtucket on Monday and could be activated by the Red Sox as early as Wednesday. ... First baseman/outfielder Mark Kotsay (back surgery) started his assignment for Pawtucket on Saturday, going 1-for-5 with an RBI. The left-handed hitter DH'd in that game and will play the outfield on Sunday. ... With a day game on Sunday, Francona started Nick Green at shortstop on Saturday night. Julio Lugo, who returned to the lineup on Tuesday following right knee surgery, played on Thursday and Friday. ... Former Red Sox left-hander David Wells was in the clubhouse before the game, preparing for his assignment as a TBS analyst on Sunday. Wells shook hands with George Kottaras, the man who was traded from San Diego to Boston in exchange for the Boomer. "I was high-fiving you in the air as we flew by each other," quipped Wells. "It worked out for you, right?" Kottaras, Boston's backup catcher, nodded affirmatively.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.