Monday, July 6, 2009

Split to Ellis costs optimistic Smoltz

One more lesson for John Smoltz: In the American League, the hitter in the No. 9 spot can hurt you.

Smoltz made what he thought was a pretty good pitch to Mark Ellis, a splitfingered fastball down and in and pretty much where he wanted to put it. There were runners on first and third with two outs -- he'd already given up one run, and he'd have been perfectly happy to get out of the inning having allowed just that one run.

Ellis swung hard and stayed inside the ball and bounced it off the Jimmy Fund logo on the center-field side of the Green Monster. Two runs scored. A one-run game turned into a three-run game.

"I felt like it was a good enough pitch to not have that result," Smoltz said after having watched the tape. "The ball went down and stayed in and was down, and he just made, I think, a great adjustment. Camera angles are a little bit deceiving sometimes, and when I made the pitch on the mound, I felt like that was the right pitch. For him to hit it off the wall, it's like, well, unfortunately, it didn't work out -- and two runs scored."

Smoltz had thrown four pretty solid innings before rain interrupted things in Baltimore last Tuesday, but he allowed 10 hits and five earned runs in six innings against Oakland on Monday.

Three starts into his Red Sox career, he's no longer finding his way or going through the process or working his way back from anything. He's back. He's got the stuff he's going to have. It's just a matter of executing pitches -- and some of that, he said, has to do with getting used to the hitters he's facing.

"I've always felt like I could pitch anywhere, in any stadium, in any park, to any team," he said, "but there is some newness to it. There's some guys I haven't seen in a long time. This lineup had some familiar guys, but being comfortable and knowing who you're pitching against and really knowing the weaknesses will be something that, hopefully, I'll be able to put the ball exactly where I want to.

"There's nothing about today's game that had anything to do with the process. Today was just the simple fact that they got some hits."

"As he gets into the grind, we're already there," Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "(He wants to) get his legs under him, establish all his pitches, know what he can go to, things like that. ... We have the confidence that, as he gets there, he'll keep us in games."

Part of the problem, Smoltz said, was that the A's did exactly the opposite of what he'd expected. They went after his fastballs early in the count -- and they hit them.

"The scouting report was a little opposite on that," he said. "The scouting report was that they'd been very patient."

The Athletics have swung at 45.6 percent of pitches thrown to them, 11th-highest in the major leagues. They've been particularly aggressive on pitches in the strike zone, their rate of 67 percent ranking ninth-highest in the major leagues. The scouting report indeed was a little off. The "Moneyball" A's, they're not.

The A's generally were patient in the first inning but started to jump on the ball a little more in the second. Ryan Sweeney, the second hitter of the inning, flew to center on a first-pitch fastball up in the zone. Jason Giambi, Kurt Suzuki and Nomar Garciaparra then went after back-to-back-to-back pitches to open up the fourth inning -- Giambi doubled to center field, Suzuki bunted down the third-base line and Garciaparra ripped a single through the hole in the left side to score a run.

"Giambi hits a back-door slider off the wall, and that's why he's hit as many home runs as he has," Smoltz said. "The next guy bunts, a perfect bunt. At that point, I'm just trying to keep it to one run. The very next pitch, Nomar hits it in between the hole."

Two batters later -- Smoltz fanned Sweeney on a splitter and induced a ground ball that Nick Green and Julio Lugo turned into a fielder's choice -- Ellis came to the plate, the No. 9 hitter in the A's lineup. He put a good swing on what Smoltz maintained was a pretty decent pitch and, with the way Brett Anderson was pitching, put the game out of reach.

"I was really bearing down on Ellis," he said. "But in the American League, the ninth-hole hitter means nothing. There's nine hitters at the plate. ...

"I realize this is a process, but I want to pitch really well. I was getting after it today, and I got really upset when I threw that split to Ellis. I felt like it was the right pitch -- if I could get it down, I could get out with one run."

Said Francona, "It was down and probably not in the middle, but it just didn't bottom out enough and Ellis put a great swing on it. That was a big hit in the game."

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