07/26/09 6:33 PM ET
Francona calls for patience with Smoltz
Skipper confident veteran right-hander will find his groove
By John Barone / MLB.com
So in the case of John Smoltz, the Red Sox's manager is preaching patience. Despite mixed results through six starts in a Boston uniform, the right-hander has shown flashes of being a viable rotation option down the stretch.
At other times, he's struggled mightily.
"He's had some frustrations," Francona said of Smoltz, who fell to 1-4 with a 7.04 ERA with Sunday's forgettable outing against the Orioles. "It's so easy to have the big picture get lost here. I sat here for the last six months and laid out Smoltz's plan, and then when he gives up runs, it all seems to go out the window.
"[According to public opinion], he's either going to be enshrined in Cooperstown or be released depending on a couple starts, and that's not how it can work. That's not a good way to make it work."
A likely future Hall of Famer who spent the first 20 years of his career piling up 210 victories with the Braves, Smoltz logged a season-high 5 2/3 innings on Monday in Arlington against the Rangers, but he came undone in a five-run sixth that followed five efficient frames.
Sunday wasn't much better for the eight-time All-Star, who admitted that "changes have to be made" after allowing six earned runs in back-to-back starts for just the second time in his illustrious career.
"I'm open for suggestions," Smoltz said. "[On Sunday], I asked my manager and pitching coach, 'What do you think?' There have been some games where I've shook my head and said, 'I can't explain it.' I've got to make adjustments."
As Francona has stressed since January, tolerance is crucial when evaluating the 42-year-old Smoltz, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in June 2008 before signing with the Red Sox as a free agent last offseason.
"We need to have some patience," Francona said. "When it's hard to have patience, that's when you really need to have it. We feel like there's a really good pitcher there. I think that's fairly obvious just from watching him.
"Some things have gone wrong in most of his starts, and we've ended up losing games when he's pitched, but that doesn't mean he can't pitch really well for us. We all believe that he will."
Though incredibly frustrated, Smoltz also realizes it wasn't long ago when his career was over in the eyes of many.
If he's beaten the odds once, why can't he do it again?
"The chances of me coming back were slim," Smoltz said. "I still like my chances."
John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.