Will Smoltz snap out of it?

DJ Bean
August 06, 2009 - 8:04 am

Tonight's start is a big example of why the Red Sox took a flyer on John Smoltz back in January. Boston wanted a clutch starter on the cheap, and the Smoltz wanted to prove that he still had it. When the Sox play their first of four at Yankee Stadium tonight they'll be looking to turn around a recent stretch of disappointing baseball (8-10 since the All-Star break). Smoltz' duty is doubled when you factor in him trying to work out of a funk he hasn't seen in nearly 16 years. After a start last Friday in Baltimore in which he gave up five runs over six innings (it very well could have been six earned if not for a spectacular catch by Jacoby Ellsbury), Smoltz has now given up at least five earned runs in three consecutive starts dating back to July 20 (1-2). The last time Smoltz had such a stretch, the Braves were in the NL West in September of 1993. The right-hander also gave up six, five, and six, respectively in three straight in August of 1989. For what it's worth, Smoltz has never seen one of these streaks reach four games. Still, the question lingers: what if Smoltz extends the streak tonight and helps the Red Sox to their first loss against the Yankees on the season? What if the streak then reaches five games the next time out? In five of his seven starts he's let the opponent cross the plate five times, so it's a reasonable concern.  All of the "pitching depth" is clearly out the window by now. Justin Masterson (who wasn't really appetizing as a starter in the first place given his ineffectiveness against lefties) is gone, and Michael Bowden was shelled last night in Pawtucket (six earned runs in three innings). Commenters everywhere have grown restless with the lack of overpowering performances from Smoltz, but as Alex Speier pointed out last week, the former Brave isn't going anywhere. Like it or not, this appears to be the rotation for the time being.  Meanwhile, the Sox brought back one of their starters of the past by signing Paul Byrd. Looking around the league, it may be the case that they brought back the wrong guy. Not to dwell on a dwell on a 37-year-old's Double A performance, but guess who notched 11 strikeouts last night? This leads to a question that could definitely induce some interesting debates: would you rather have John Smoltz or Pedro Martinez for the rest of the season?  This isn't an open-and-shut case.  Everything should be taken into consideration. I'm talking contracts (Smoltz' $5.5 million salary versus Pedro's $1 million), the fact that Smoltz was able to return earlier, age, résumés, and yes, the perceived headache that comes with Martinez. Though Smoltz is different because he is returning from a major injury, the two cases are similar in that they are formerly overpowering pitchers who are trying to achieve success using new means. For Smoltz, it's depending more on his changeup. For Martinez, it's coming to grips with the fact that he's not going to be able to throw quite as many fastballs to big league hitters and get away with it. While a comparison of the two pitchers in this town would be remarkably lopsided, Smoltz can still give Red Sox fans hope for the rest of the season and beyond by turning in a signature performance against the team's biggest rival. It won't be easy, but then again Martinez wasn't afraid of admitting that either. Lou Merloni said on Saturday's "Basball Show" that the Red Sox have three no. 5 starters in Smoltz, Brad Penny, and Clay Buchholz. Based on the numbers, he's got a point, but if anything can change Boston's mind about Smoltz, it will be a shut-down performance in the Bronx that halts the skids of both himself and the Sox. If not, let the griping continue.