Smoltz pitches, doesn’t deliver
With the Hall of Fame induction ceremony being replayed on a television behind him and to the right, the man who one day will be enshrined in Cooperstown was defeated. He was frustrated, as has happened so many times in his nascent Red Sox career. He was demoralized. He was without answers as to why pitches that felt good, just as he felt good, were being turned around on him.
“No matter what I say today, it’s not going to matter,’’ John Smoltz said, with a half sigh, half release of anger. “When you give up six runs, no matter what you say or feel like, it’s irrelevant when the results are the way they are. Me saying I had good stuff and I felt great is irrelevant.’’
In the wake of a 6-2 loss to the Orioles in front of 37,606 that earned him some mild booing, Smoltz said, “I’m a fighter, and I came over here because I know the expectation is high and right now my frustration is [that] it looks like I’m not delivering. That will change one way or the other, I can promise you that. I work at it pretty hard. I’m not a guy that has a ton of anger on the field or off the field, but I’m grinding.’’
It looks that way. When Smoltz walked off the field, after just five innings of work in which he had allowed six runs on nine hits, it was another embarrassment on the way back from injury that has left Smoltz searching. He hasn’t yet found the answers.
So he will go back to work, and in five days Smoltz will return to the hill, on the day of the trade deadline, against the Ori oles again. There are no plans to take him out of the rotation, despite his 1-4 record and 7.04 ERA. There are no plans to skip him. No plans to work around him. Not yet, at least.
“No,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said. “At this point that’s not even been considered. If there was a drop-off physically, just through either naked eye or what the velocity is telling us, that would be a different situation, but that’s not the case. You look at the amount of [swings and misses] he’s able to generate, and yet because of the consistency of command he’s frustrated.’’
“I’ve certainly been wrong before,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t think we’re wrong this time. It’s going to work. I really believe that. The results certainly haven’t been what we’ve wanted so far. I think he’s going to be just fine.’’
As Smoltz spoke for nearly 16 minutes to reporters, he said he was open to suggestions. He acknowledged that, at the beginning, he was caught up in trying to prove that he could return. Prove that the doubters were wrong, and that he could be an integral part of a playoff contender.
He hasn’t been that, not by a long shot. The problem, again, was getting two outs but then allowing a big inning. Smoltz allowed three runs in the third, the trouble beginning with two outs and Felix Pie on second. Back-to-back RBI doubles by Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold and a run-scoring single by Ty Wigginton put Baltimore ahead, 4-0, before the Sox had recorded a hit against David Hernandez.
“Those two-out runs are just absolutely not who I am,’’ Smoltz said. “It’s killed me this year. In a high-intensity place with the media attention the way it is, people are going to all of a sudden start talking about different solutions because it looks pretty bad. But I feel a lot better than it looks.’’
So far, it looks terrible.
“I think just evaluating the pure stuff, I think it was more crisp than at any other time that he’s pitched for us this season,’’ Farrell said. “Yet against a good fastball-hitting team he made some mistakes out over the plate, particularly away, that resulted in four extra-base hits. But the action to his slider, which was very much a swing-and-miss pitch for him, was later and sharper, more powerful than it’s been. We can say this, yet the bottom line is what matters.
“What do we do from here? I think there’s the ability or the need to pitch in a little bit more. While his stuff is improved over the previous outings, hitters one time through the order can start to look in one area and I think that’s what was a little bit the case today. When he wasn’t fine with his location or in very good quality locations, we saw the results.’’
Smoltz believes he is not done. He is giving up hits, but he is not walking batters, and he’s striking them out. The results don’t compute, at least to Smoltz. He notes the improvement in his slider, which he used to record five of his six strikeouts, and sees progress. There’s just not nearly enough, even against a team that had yet to win a game on the road this season against the Sox or Yankees.
While Smoltz’s offense didn’t really contribute anything meaningful, with a sacrifice fly from Jed Lowrie (which nearly went out) and an RBI double from Dustin Pedroia the only runs the Sox could muster, this loss was squarely on the pitcher.
Saying that he’s been told his fastball is “good enough,’’ Smoltz said he hadn’t trusted it enough, but he was beaten on it over and over again yesterday.
Now, he said, it’s up to him to call on his experience. He knows he needs to put some good games together. He needs to get that statement win, the one that makes people stop wondering why the Sox acquired him, makes them cut out the boos and accept him.
“I’m shaking my head from what I believe that I can do,’’ Smoltz said. “I’d walk away from this game tomorrow if I didn’t think I can still do [things]. I’ve achieved a lot of stuff in this game.
“I can promise you, I’ve been in holes before, and I will get out of them if the opportunity is afforded. But at the same time, this city and this team is trying to win a championship. Whatever has to take place - and I’m not saying anything [more] than this - I believe I’m going to get it done.’’