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Boston is on Smoltz’s radar

05.26.09 at 10:16 pm ET

MANCHESTER, N.H. – With eight TV cameras and approximately 20 reporters jammed into a corner annex of Merchantsauto.com Stadium, John Smoltz said he can almost taste his first start in a Red Sox uniform.

The 42-year-old right-hander allowed three hits and one run, earned, over his 3 1/3 innings for Double-A Portland against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, his second major league rehab start. He left with one out in the fourth and the Sea Dogs leading 3-1 in a game won by Portland, 5-1.

“I’ve done this before, maybe not to this length of time,” Smoltz said. “My radar screen has Boston on it and as long as that’s the carrot dancing in front of you, you just keep doing what you have to do.”

With another start for Single-A Greenville on Sunday and two more for Triple-A Pawtucket after that, Smoltz figures to debut for the Red Sox on June 16 at Fenway Park against Florida.

“I think that would be a good guage if the progress continues this way,” Smoltz said. “The hardest part of my job is to not think ahead and not think about getting big league hitters out. It would be dangerous to do that right now, thinking about my pitches today, because they’re all going to get a little sharper and all the intensity is going to cause it to go up a little bit.”

Then, five days later, it would be his former team, the Atlanta Braves also at Fenway.

“With the history and all that’s gone on, that cannot be a focus for me,” Smoltz said of facing the Braves. “If it falls that way, it falls that way. I’ll certainly attack them the same way I attack the Yankees or whoever else I play. For me, this process can’t be bigger, and the game can’t be bigger than what I’m trying to do. If I allow that, that game will be too big.

“There will be so much surrounding it I don’t know if a breath will be something that comes easy. The only request I had was that I just didn’t want that to be my first start. I don’t think that would do me or the team any good. It looks like that would be my second start,” he added.

As for Tuesday, Smoltz was pleased with the 60 pitches he threw, a well-balanced mix of fastballs, splitters, changeups and sliders.

“All in all, pleased with the progress and now starts three, four and five, I’ll start establishing a little bit more of the things I need to work on, that I’ll feel needs fine tuning. When you leave (minors), you leave, having all your stuff where it is so you can get big league hitters out,” he said.

“Another rung in the ladder. I didn’t have as good stuff at times. When you get into these situations, I’m trying to force pitches, like in a spring training game, trying to make pitches I probably wouldn’t make in a regular season game. I made a couple mistakes today but overall, no pain.”

His outpitch is the slider and it appears that’s the pitch that is taking the longest to come around. But his splitter and changeup are almost game-ready.

“I threw a lot of pitches that I think hitters up there would have swung at, some really good splits that I was really trying to work on,” Smoltz said. “I didn’t get any swing-and-misses here but that’s always the balance when you come into a game like this, what do you try to work on. I was really pleased with my split and changeup.”

It was a relatively cool night in Manchester, with a temperature of 63 at the start, dropping into the 50s later.

“I think the weather being a little dry caused me to not hump up on some pitches and not have the quality of break but overall very pleased,” Smoltz said.

The most intriguing moment of the night came when Smoltz took the mound for exactly one pitch in the fourth inning. He came out after getting a fly out to right. Red Sox minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel was on hand to monitor Smoltz.

“It’s always a tough call for a minor league manager or a pitching coach when they tell you, you have 65 pitches to work with,” Smoltz said. “But I had six pitches to work with in that inning. Ralph and I go back a long ways and he said he’d pin it on that one. They want four up-and-downs but you don’t want to mess with the pitches. When they tell you you have 65 pitches, they pretty much want you to stick with that.”

Read More: john smoltz, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Portland Sea Dogs, Red Sox
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