Smoltz ready to brave it again
WASHINGTON - On June 10 last year, John Smoltz underwent shoulder surgery that, at the time, made it uncertain that he would ever pitch again. He had great difficulty sleeping for three weeks because the pain in his shoulder made it impossible to find a comfortable position.
“That was the roughest point,’’ Smoltz said.
By November, Smoltz was chucking footballs and throwing in a bullpen. By January, he was walking to a podium and pulling on a Red Sox cap. Yesterday, Smoltz was surrounded by reporters and talking about making his Red Sox debut.
Smoltz will start tonight against the Nationals, his first appearance with the Red Sox and one that follows the most trying rehabilitation of his career.
Smoltz is a master of reinvention. He has been a starter and a closer and a starter again. He has thrown sidearm and thrown knuckleballs. Today - at age 42 and opposing a pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, who was 2 when Smoltz made his major league debut - he’ll unveil the latest version of himself.
“This is not the old, or the new, or the done,’’ Smoltz said. “This is just a new chapter.
“It will be a success. I came back with this mind-set that it’s not about stories or saying I can do it again. It’s about pitching and getting hitters out. The end result is going to be that, and in three, four, or five starts from now, I think you’ll see why I feel the way I do.’’
“As determined and competitive a human being that I’ve ever met,’’ said Nationals president Stan Kasten, who held the same position with the Braves when they traded for Smoltz in 1987, “whether it’s his mental devices or his raw physical gifts.’’
“You know, he was an all-star high school basketball player. You know, he’s a scratch golfer. He just won’t lose at things.’’
The reincarnation of Smoltz throws his fastball between 88 and 92 miles per hour and beats hitters with guile. Smoltz will throw five, maybe six pitches, and he promised to change his arm angle if he needs to. Smoltz can choose from two fastballs, a splitter, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup that he said is, at this point, a “feel pitch.’’
In the second inning, Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes broke his bat on a grounder toward short. The bat head snapped off and flew at Green, a jagged edge spinning end-over-end. Green focused on the ball, but the bat arrived at the same time, and he had to deflect the bat from his face with his forearm as the ball skipped past. When Green turned to chase the ball, the bat was sticking in the ground and he almost stepped on it.
“I didn’t see the bat until it bounced right in front of me,’’ Green said. “It happened so fast. You only had time to try to react. I didn’t have time to be scared.’’
The league has attempted to head off a growing concern that a player or fan will be seriously injured. (One fan and a coach, at least, have already been badly hurt by flying, broken bats.) The image of the bat poking out of the ground last night underscored the seriousness of the issue.
“It’s scary to see a bat go flying that far,’’ Jon Lester said. “I thought they did some research this offseason to try to figure that stuff out. But obviously, we’ve still got a long ways to go. We’ve got to take cover. It’s a tough play to make when you’ve got a bat head flying at you, looking to take your head off.’’
Adam Kilgore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org