Saturday, August 8, 2009

Talking John Smoltz

On Thursday, John Smoltz made the 474th (regular season) start of his illustrious career. It wasn't one of the better ones — he got 10 outs and surrendered nine hits, four walks and eight runs (box score here).

That raised his ERA to 8.32. And on Friday the Boston Red Sox designated him for assignment — cut him from the roster and giving themselves 10 days to dispose of his contract.

On the face of it, it would seem silly to contemplate the Twins adding Smoltz to their roster, pedigree or no. The man's 42 years old, and 8.32 is 8.32.

But ... 40 major league innings this year, 33 strikeouts and nine walks. There are pitches left in that arm. Not 100 pitches every fifth day, but he can help in the bullpen.

Matthew Pouliot of the Circling the Bases blog sums up Smoltz' stuff thusly: an average fast ball that requires too much effort (damaging his command) and an extremely effective slider.

The recipe for an effective short reliever: Command of one above-average pitch and the right stuff inside. Smoltz has the pitch, and we know he has the latter.

We don't know if Smoltz is ready to hang 'em up. Nor do we know for sure that the Red Sox are done with him. There is speculation that the Red Sox — assuming Smoltz passes through waivers — want him to return to their minors, transition to the bullpen and waive his bonus for days on the major league roster. That last may not fly with the players union.

Nor do we know that the Mike Jackson-Larry Andersen model — a reliever who relies on his slider almost exclusively — will work physically with Smoltz' arm. Maybe he can't throw 14 sliders out of 15 pitches every other day.

What he do know is he's available, and the Twins need pitching help. They need pitching help so badly even an 8.32 ERA looks good — at least when it's attached to John Smoltz.

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