Saturday, June 27, 2009

Smoltz First Start with Sox in DC, Then Home to Atlanta

Future Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz was home in Atlanta on Friday after a mediocre first big league start for a loss against the Nationals.

But let's be honest, his first start has to be considered a throw away.

Why? There are a whole host of reasons, but the major one to me is that its the first time facing major league hitting after not pitching for a long time and coming off major shoulder surgery for a guy who is 42.

Yes, the Nationals are the worst team in baseball, but that has more to do with a weak pitching starting rotation and pretty awful bullpen. Oh, and by the way, Jordan Zimmerman of the Nationals can deal. He has really good stuff.

Smoltz got knocked around in the first inning after hit a lefty batter on the shin after a wicked bending slider--a pitch to me that looked like it got a whole lot better the more he threw it, and one that will help him keep future batters off because they will never know when he will throw it. Overall, Smoltz improved as he went along by getting more in strike zone focused.

He ended up with 5 Ks in 5 innings with 5 earned runs. He lost, but he settled in and got his slider in more control--and got his fastball hitting the corners.

But most at play here was that thing you read about and hear sports broadcasters talk about so much: Adrenaline.

For the amount that term is used, you think it was a something you wear under your uniform or around your neck. Adrenaline is the biophysical, scientific way of saying an athlete is nervous, trying to be too perfect and is the complete opposite of relaxed.

Adrenaline build up is what you get when you are afraid of failing. Smoltz said as much after the game: "What I feared most was wanting to do so well," he [Smoltz] said later. "It felt different because so many people were rooting for me."

It's not the first time Smoltz has had to deal with nerves as a starter. Remember, this is the guy who went back and forth between a starter's role and closer and dominated in both. The man is a competitor in the best of ways, and something the Red Sox could very well need in a playoff situation.

On calming his nerves before his start, has this:

On Wednesday, he had spoken about a similar situation that made his nerves
flare. On April 4, 2005, Smoltz made his first start in four years after serving
as the Braves closer. He faced 13 batters. Seven of them scored. Smoltz allowed
six earned runs on six hits and two walks 1 2/3 innings.

Smoltz said he would draw on the experience to help calm his nerves for last
night. In the afternoon, he played cards with Manny Delcarmen and wore a smile
walking through the clubhouse, but jitters seemed to affect him in the first. He
hit the second batter he faced, Nick Johnson, in the shin.

With Matsuzaka on the DL, and looking pretty lost on the hill, having Smoltz able to eat up innings and keep the Red Sox in the game is going to be a great thing to watch going forward.

Is he going to give up runs? Absolutely. But I imagine he is going to keep them at bay better than many pitchers in the league.

Just look at his 21-year career numbers for evidence:

210 Wins, 3.27 ERA, 3016 Ks, 1.17 WHIP, 8 SO/9 innings, .235 BAA

He's going to be good.