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That’s a wrap: Smoltz finished in minors 06.18.09 at 12:38 am ET
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John Smoltz is officially done with his rehab assignment and is ready to join the Red Sox next week. Finally.

“I know I lead the team in innings watched,” said Smoltz with a laugh after his four-inning start Wednesday night in Pawtucket.

The right-hander was impressive in his final rehab outing, as he focused on his changeup — a pitch he admitted he still isn’t totally comfortable with– to get by when it mattered.

“I had to work on [my changeup] awfully hard because that’s not a comfortable pitch,” said Smoltz. “That’s not my pitch that I would go to [in the past].”

Smoltz had said previously that in order to have continued success at the major league level he would need to become more of a finesse pitcher. If the second inning on Wednesday was any indication, he is certainly on track. Smoltz baffled Cole Armstrong with a change clocked at 82 mph to get the Knights’ catcher swinging to end the inning.

“Today was more encouraging having gone through not being at my best, feel-wise,” said Smoltz. “It really comes down to trying to find a way to execute the best pitch at the right time.”

In his four innings of work, Smoltz threw 61 pitches, 36 strikes of which went for strikes. He allowed a run on three hits while walking one and striking out two. He’ll go for the Sox in D.C. a week from Thursday.

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Smoltz’ post-start comments 06.17.09 at 9:30 pm ET
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John Smoltz looked good despite an apparant discomfort with the ball (which may or may have not been a minor league ball) in his final rehab start Wednesday in Pawtucket. He hit 91 on the gun with his fastball in a start that focused on doing as much with his changeup as possible.

In four four innings of work, Smoltz threw 61 pitches, 36 strikes of which went for strikes. He allowed a run on three hits while walking one and striking out two. After his start, the righty spoke with the media about how he feels going into his Red Sox debut next Thursday against the Nationals.

Smoltz on his feel for the ball in his final start:

“I felt really good, I just lost feeling for the ball during the game. The two innings I threw in the bullpen I felt great. I just lost the feel for the baseball and struggled with that, but overall I physically felt great. Sometimes you’ve got to fight the elements and I’m not a guy that doesn’t throw his fastball where he wants to and my split was all over. It was a little bit of a struggle feel-wise. I’m anxiously awaiting my [Red Sox] first start.”

On using his changeup deep in counts and the different pitcher he has become:

“I had to work on that pitch awfully hard because that’s not a comfortable pitch, that’s not my pitch that I would go to. It was one more opportunity to get to it and unfortunately the grip affected that pitch a lot and I did not throw it well. I threw some good ones. My two innings in the bullpen were outstanding with it but nobody saw that. I’m overall pleased with the amount of work that I’ve put in to get to this point and now I’ll have to find a way for eight days to maintain some sort of program to get me ready for Thursday.”

On having the majors on his mind:

“It seems like the last three games have been in a way where your mind is getting for something, something changes and you have to get ready for the moment that you’re in and I can honestly say when I was out there today I didn’t think I didn’t think one bit about pitching in the big leagues and setting up anybody for those kind of hitters. Now I will.”

On the six-man rotation:

“That’s going to be [the Red Sox’] call. With me, more or less, I’ve got a job to do and I can’t worry about that.”

On watching the Sox from the dugout:

“I know I lead the team in innings watched [laughter]. Soon I’ll be able to get up and down and hopefully walk in and out [of the dugout] hopefully seven times and shake some hands. The environment in that place is [something] I’m comfortable with but I just hope it warms up. The hotter the better for me.”

On Fenway:

“I’ve pitched there as a visitor many times and felt that you had to be on your game, you had to make pitches because of the wall in the left and short porch in the right. It just always makes you feel like you have to make really good pitches and fortunately I’ve been able to do that as a visitor and now I want to do it as a home player.

“It’s going to be a long eight days and I’m prepared for that. I’ll probably have two good side sessions to work on some stuff and then I’m going to rely on the catching they’ve got up there. I’ve been excited to throw to [Varitek] for a long time and even George [Kottaras] . Throw to either one of those is something I’ve wanted to do since spring training and hopefully, with no hiccups,  that will come soon.”

On his final rehab start and his time in the minors:

“I was trying to do too much maybe a little bit in this shorter game. I thought I did a great job intensity-wise in the bullpen acting like a threw too innings. I didn’t just want to come here and pitch four innings and then wait all that time. It’s not about saving my bullets, it’s about having those bullets as good as possible. It hasn’t flown by but it has been rewarding to this point to at least have an opportunity to at least engage in questions after a real game [laughter].”

On the progression throughout his rehab stint:

“For the most part, with the exception of today, I threw the ball everywhere I wanted to throw it. Today I don’t know if I threw too many first-pitch strikes, which is a big key for me. I can get a lot of quick pitch outs and a lot of quick action and so today was the only day in the six starts that I didn’t have a real good feel but physically it was probably my best day. There wasn’t too much grind getting ready, so physically that’s very encouraging because as you progress and get through some of those rough times, there’s been a lot of time where to get loose, I’m learning to do this all over again. Today was more encouraging having gone through not being at my best feel-wise. It really comes down to trying to find a way to execute the best pitch at the right time.

“Now it’s time to start getting ready for the things that I know will take me through not only a baseball game but through the season.”

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The Nostalgia! Smoltz done in Pawtucket at 8:05 pm ET
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John Smoltz’ Triple-A time is over after four innings on Wednesday.

After Michael Restovich grounded out to third, Smoltz walked Daryle Ward on four pitches. Betimit then flew out, nearly taking Paul McAnulty to the warning track. Cole Armstrong ended the fourth by grounding out to first, which sparked a standing ovation for Smoltz.

In four innings of work, Smoltz threw 61 pitches, 36 strikes of which went for strikes. He allowed a run on three hits while walking one and striking out two. He placed a high priority on throwing his changeup, which led to several missed bats.

Smoltz is slated to face the Nationals in D.C. next Thursday in his Red Sox debut. Check back here for his post-start comments.

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Smoltz allows leadoff homer in third at 7:49 pm ET
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John Smoltz ran into a bit of trouble in his third inning of work on Wednesday, allowing a leadoff homer to Keith Ginter on a 2-0 count.

After back to back flyouts by Miguel Negron and Eider Torres, center fielder Brent Lillibridge singled to center and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Josh Kroeger ended the inning by grounding out to second on a 3-2 pitch in a seven-pitch at-bat.

Smoltz threw 24 pitches in the inning and mixed in a higher percentage of fastballs than he did in the second inning, in which he was a bit more resourceful. In total, the right-hander has thrown 49 pitches, 31 strikes, and has given up a run on three hits while striking out two. His fastball has been at 91 mph regularly according the gun at McCoy Stadium. He will return for the start of the fourth.

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“Different pitcher” arrives in Pawtucket at 7:27 pm ET
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John Smoltz said that he was going to be a different pitcher. If Wednesday’s second inning is any indication, he’s going to be a damn good one.

After getting Michael Restovich to fly out and striking out Daryle Ward, Smoltz gave up the Knights’ first hit to former Yankee Wilson Betemit. He eventually got Cole Armstrong to stiek ouyt swinging on a changeup after the Charlotte catcher worked the count full, but what was so impressive was his habit of going back to his changeup and curveball time and time again.

Even though both Betemit and Armstrong made him throw more pitches than he would have liked, he still relied on the change, a pitch that he feels will be a big part of the new pitcher he has become.

Through two innings Smoltz has thrown 25 pitches, 15 strikes, allowed one hit, and struck out two.

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Smoltz has 1-2-3 First at 7:11 pm ET
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That was quick.

John Smoltz needed only six pitches to retire the side in order in his first inning of work against Charlotte. Leadoff hitter Eider Torres flew out to left on Smoltz’ second pitch before Bubba Bell made a great diving catch to rob Brent Lillibridge of a base hit. Knights first baseman Josh Kroeger then ended the inning by lining out to his counterpart in Aaron Bates on the first pitch of his at-bat, Smoltz’ first changeup of the night. One of the main purposes of this start is for Smoltz to make sure his changeup is ready for his Red Sox debut next Thursday against the Nationals.

In total Smoltz threw six pitches, four of which went for strikes.

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Smoltz a man without a plan 06.07.09 at 1:27 pm ET
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John Smoltz knows that he’s getting close. Following his six-inning, 74-pitch outing for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday, the 42-year-old is now scheduled to start on Thursday in Syracuse. From there, there’s a chance — and seemingly a strong one at that — that Smoltz could be ready for a return to the majors. Smoltz, however, is trying to avoid thinking too much about what comes after Thursday.

“I don’t have a plan after that,” he grinned. “I’m plan-less.”

Because Smoltz’ outing on Thursday will be in a seven-inning game (part of a double-header for the PawSox), he wants to pitch a complete game. He still has some work to do building his pitch count, as Smoltz professes a goal of getting to 90 or 95 pitches in his next outing in order to get a read on his stamina and stuff. Indeed, Smoltz admits that he “begged” the PawSox to let him pitch beyond his six innings, but that the team refused to relent.)

“They just want me to achieve certain things,” said Smoltz. “No sense in pushing it, which I understand.”

In terms of stuff, Smoltz suggests that he is neither where he was when he was last healthy in 2007, nor is he where he believes he will ultimately be in 2009. Nonetheless, he is heartened by where he is, feeling that his arsenal is good enough to allow him to compete.

“I would say (the stuff is a) B. Grade B, which is good,” said Smoltz. “There’s room to get up to A-level. And then I know that certain things from there will be better.”

Of course, those who know Smoltz believe that he is fully capable of succeeding with that caliber of stuff. A pitcher who spent more than a decade with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine is capable of succeeding on guile as much as stuff. Towards that end, the Sox believe that Smoltz is now in the phase of his recovery when he is preparing for the specific circumstances of at-bats and outings, rather than simply trying to regain health following his shoulder surgery last June.

“He’s excited and he’s getting closer and closer, you can see it,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He’s not rehabbing so much anymore. He’s trying to attack hitters and make pitches and talk about how he gets reaction to his split and things like that, which is good to hear.”

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