Boston (44-27) at Washington (21-49)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Washington, DC
Temp: 64° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Thu Jun 25, 2009
Preview | Box Score | Recap

John Smoltz’s(notes) lengthy run of success in the majors has come in three different decades, as a starter and a closer, for a World Series champion and a 100-loss team.

But until now, he’s worn only one uniform.

That will change Thursday night when the 42-year-old right-hander makes his much-anticipated return from shoulder surgery with the Boston Red Sox, hoping to pitch his new club to a fifth straight win and a three-game sweep of the host Washington Nationals.

For much of his career, Smoltz formed a dominating pitching trio with Greg Maddux(notes) and Tom Glavine(notes), helping the Atlanta Braves to 14 straight postseason appearances. Even after Maddux and Glavine left Atlanta, Smoltz remained synonymous with the Braves franchise, pitching there for 20 seasons.

But after his 2008 campaign was shortened by shoulder problems, he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in January and worked his way back from surgery. He’ll be limited to 85-90 pitches in his first major league outing since June 2, 2008, but he’s confident in his decision to come back.

“It will be a success,” Smoltz said, “and I came back with this mindset that it ain’t about stories, it ain’t about to say ‘I can do it again.’ This is about pitching and getting hitters out. The end result is going to be that, and three, four, five starts from now, I think you’ll see why I feel the way I do.”

The timing of Smoltz’s return couldn’t be better for Boston. He’ll fill Daisuke Matsuzaka’s(notes) spot in the rotation after the struggling right-hander was placed on the disabled list Sunday.

Although the scheduling of his first start ensures that he won’t face the Braves this weekend, he will find a familiar opponent awaiting him. Smoltz has made 68 appearances against the Nationals franchise, and Washington has had trouble with him lately.

Since the beginning of the 2007 season, he is 4-3 with a 1.77 ERA in seven starts against the Nationals, striking out 45 in 45 2-3 innings.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he doesn’t expect him to be able to light up radar guns quite as he has in the past, but Smoltz - the only pitcher ever to win 200 games and save 150 - had a 2.63 ERA in six minor league rehab starts.

“He’s gone through a lot to put himself in a position where I think he can help us win a lot of games,” Francona said. “He wanted to pitch into the playoffs. I think he’s tried to put himself into a position where that’ll happen.”

The way the Red Sox (44-27) have been playing, it certainly seems possible. After Wednesday’s 6-4 win - a victory sparked by a three-run David Ortiz(notes) homer - Boston improved to an AL-best 15-5 in June.

Ortiz went 2 for 3 and is batting .357 with six homers and 12 RBIs in his last 15 games.

The Nationals (20-49) have lost three straight to quickly erase any good feelings from last week’s four-game winning streak. They are 9-28 since May 15 and could fall to 20-50 for the first time since their inaugural season as the Montreal Expos in 1969.

While Smoltz has made 466 starts in the majors, Thursday will be the 12th for Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann(notes). The right-hander, who was 2 years old when Smoltz made his big league debut, is looking for his first win since April 26.

Zimmermann (2-3, 5.03 ERA) has allowed four runs in his last three starts but has also received four runs of support in those outings.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Smoltz StL vs. J. Zimmermann Was
3-8 Record 3-5
6.35 ERA 4.63
73 K 92
18 BB 29
1.45 WHIP 1.36


Thursday, Jun 25