MANCHESTER, N.H. — At 42 years old, John Smoltz now looks a tad older than the days when he was carving out his reputation as possibly the greatest big game pitcher in major league history. But when he took the mound last night, he looked like anything but a pitcher past his prime.
After 20 years as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Smoltz made his next step toward taking the mound as a member of the Red Sox. While he was not yet in a Boston uniform, he was wearing a Red Sox-style jersey in a rehab start for the Portland Sea Dogs against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Merchantsauto.com Stadium.
"My goal is to get into these games a little easier than if I was in Boston," he said. "I was very pleased with my splitter and changeup, but a little displeased with my slider. I think I threw a few pitches that major leaguers would have swung at. I know my pitches will be sharper. I have to work to reach my goals."
The Red Sox signed the eight-time All-Star as a free agent in the offseason. But, since he underwent season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in his pitching elbow last June 10, the Boston organization has taken a slow approach. Smoltz opened the season on the disabled list, and last night made the second of what he expects will be five minor league starts to prepare him for his return to the majors.
"I can't think about getting major league batters out just yet," he said. "I want to get back into doing things like making adjustments and getting familiar with the game. Things you take for granted when you've been doing it for as long as I have."