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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.

‘€œI 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.

‘€œI had to work on [my changeup] awfully hard because that’€™s not a comfortable pitch,’€ said Smoltz. ‘€œThat’€™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.

‘€œToday was more encouraging having gone through not being at my best, feel-wise,’€ said Smoltz. ‘€œIt 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:

‘€œI 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:

‘€œIt 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:

‘€œThat’€™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:

‘€œI 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:

‘€œI’€™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.

‘€œIt’€™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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Smoltz on His Pawtucket Outing 06.06.09 at 9:19 pm ET
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John Smoltz had what he described as his best rehab start thus far, allowing just one hit over six innings in front of 10,064 at McCoy Stadium en route to a 2-1 PawSox victory over the Durham Bulls.

Smoltz seemed generally pleased with what he was able to accomplish, from both a physical and experimental standpoint. In all he threw 74 pitches, struck out three and walked two while giving up one earned run. He plans to make one last rehab start on Thursday in a double-header against Syracuse. Because it’€™s a double-header, the most he would be able to pitch would be seven innings.

On whether he’€™s making a final rehab start:

‘€œI think I am [making another rehab start Thursday]. I don’€™t know total process of what’€™s going to go on, but more than likely I’€™m going to start there. It’€™s a double-header so the most I can go is seven innings and hopefully that will be the last of what’€™s been a pretty good tune-up. Then they’€™ve got decisions to make, I’€™m going to leave it up to them and how they make those decisions. Certainly I couldn’€™t ask for a better four-game stretch to be able to get to this point.’€

On thinking about Boston:

“I’€™m trying not to, to be honest. The danger of what you could be doing in this position is forecasting too far out and I’€™m really not. In this process, however long it takes, was the prepared approach I have to take. The goal for them is to get me at my best and to progress that way. I have to be prepared for whatever steps they take. I know I can probably only make one rehab start and we’€™ll just see what happens after that.”

On tonight’€™s start:

‘€œNot bad. More progress and more confidence in pitches that, the first couple of innings I had too much feel for. Then I let them go for the third through sixth innings. I’€™m very pleased with the progress. Certainly the results are nice, too.’€

On whether he felt this was his best rehab start yet:

“Yeah, and especially as Triple-A hitters and this league is just a click away from the major leagues. These guys are close and I felt like the command — I messed with some pitches early and walked guys that in normal situations I would never do. But that’€™s the only thing that I’€™m still working on: to try to get a pitch going and it paid off as the innings went on.”

On early-inning discomfort:

‘€œIn each outing the first inning or two has been — I’€™m not as loose as I’€™d like to be and I’€™m trying in ways to get loose because once the third inning kicks in I’€™m more where I want to be. I struggled a little bit with command in the first couple of innings and then I didn’€™t struggle after that.’€

On attacking Triple-A hitters like MLB hitters

“Absolutely [I did]. With the exception of a couple of hitters early. I’€™m not a guy that’€™s going to throw three changeups in a row just to work on it, but when I get in the groove, that’€™s what a pitcher wants to do. He feels his pitches, can throw for strikes any time.”

“I felt like I kept [hitters] off balance and that’€™s the one thing that you have to do [in the majors]. The big thing I’€™ve learned is keep making progress, working at it with my eyes towards pitching in the major leagues.”

On the food bill and returning from his shoulder injury:

‘€œThat’€™s the beauty of this whole ordeal, you get a chance to treat some guys. I’€™ve gone through this a lot now and everything’€™s a mindset. If your mindset is you’€™re geared to do the things you have to do to persevere and overcome, maybe there’€™s days you don’€™t feel very good. I’€™m 42 years old and certainly there are going to be some days where I’€™m not going to feel real good. Fortunately I’€™ve been able to pitch a ton of games where I didn’€™t feel good. You can’€™t measure that and I think that’€™s the one thing that gets lost in a comeback. It’€™s one thing to have your shoulder on right, it’€™s another thing to pitch through certain situations that aren’€™t prototypically the way you would like them. As a pitcher I gear myself ready to not feel great, and when I do, that’€™s a bonus. When you log this many innings you just learn how to do that and how to get through the tough spots in a game and try to keep the innings to a minimum and I just don’€™t like crooked numbers. If I can keep them to one, one run every inning ain’€™t such a bad thing even though you’€™ve got to put some zeroes up there.’€

On economizing (9 pitches or less in each of his last three innings):

‘€œI’€™m going to be a little bit of a different pitcher than I was in the past, I’€™m going to be a guy that pounds fastballs for strikes. Maybe not blow it by them, but accompanies it with a good split, slider, and curveball and a change that’€™s coming along so there’€™s still a lot of things a hitter has to look for and that’€™s the weapons you want to have when you’€™re out there and you get in a jam and you feel like you can get out of it. All in all, I’€™ll ride out of here very happy and hopeful that the recovery continues to go in a positive way so that [for] my side session, I pick it up where I left off.’€

On fine-tuning in his final rehab outings:

‘€œWell I feel great. I’€™m not happy with two walks but to give up one hit, that’€™s a scenario for me that’€™s going to breed success if I can continue to limit how many times guys get on base. I felt comfortable on the mound, some plays at first. It’€™s all a matter of timing right now and my timing is almost where I want it to be from a mechanics standpoint. There are still some things I want to work on.’€

On the crowd:

‘€œIt was fun and I know it’€™s going to be even more fun as time goes on. The biggest thing I’€™ve had to learn in this process is that with all the traveling I’€™ve done and places I’€™ve gone is that I’€™ve got to have patience. That patience is going to play off if I allow myself to get in the right position when we’€™re facing the teams that I’€™m going to face. One thing I’€™ve learned is that I’€™m not getting too far ahead of myself.’€

On refining his repertoire:

‘€œI still want to work on that changeup. I know it’€™s not a pitch that I absolutely have to have but it’€™s a nice pitch to have if the other ones aren’€™t where they need to be. That’€™s a great pitch to slow the hitter down. In the big leagues you’€˜ve got to be able to slow the hitter down at times. Speed them up, slow them down, in and out. I feel that in the past people thought that I could rely on stuff to get hitters out. Now I’€™m going to have to rely on pitching. I’€™ve been pitching for a while so coming back from this surgery would be no different for me. I’€™ll go out, hit my spots, move it around, and try to take the sting out of the bat. That’€™s the goal of every pitcher: just take the sting out of the bat. So far, so good in four starts. Maybe one ball was squared up real good, but I’€™ve just got to keep it out of the barrel.’€

On the minor league tour:

‘€œIt’€™s been fun, it’€™s been expensive. It’€™s part of the deal. It’€™s a whole new organization and I don’€™t remember as many names as I would like, but just to get to talk to some of the guys and see them hopefully learn from some of the things I’€™ve done or said in past experiences. In baseball, you can’€™t speed the game up for the guys but you can give them certain things that they can avoid and maybe in that essence it will speed it up for them.’€

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Smoltz Done after Six at 7:43 pm ET
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PawSox manager Ron Johnson said prior to John Smoltz‘ fourth rehab start that the pitcher would go 85 pitches, or an anticipated five innings. Apparently nobody told RJ that Smoltz can stretch a pitch count.

Smoltz retired a string of ten consecutive Bulls from the third inning through his final inning of work.

In total Smoltz threw 74 pitches, 51 of which went for strikes. He allowed one earned run on just one hit while walking two and striking out three. He threw mostly fastballs, hitting 93 mph on the radar gun. The only real difficulty for Smoltz came in the second and third innings.

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Six-pitch Sixth for Smoltz at 7:29 pm ET
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John Smoltz took the hill for the sixth inning after entering the game on an 85-pitch pitch count. Six pitches later, he’s getting ready for the seventh.

Rashad Eldridge led off the inning by bunting the first pitch down the third baseline. He was thrown out by Angel Chavez. Center fielder Justin Ruggiano then flew to right on the first pitch he saw.

Chris Richard displayed unprecedented patience by seeing four pitches before eventually flying out to center. Smoltz threw just six pitches, five for strikes. He is now at 74 pitches through six innings and will most likely pitch the seventh. He has still given up just one hit.

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