John Smoltz Interview – Part One

The Atlanta Braves will have a familiar face in its starting rotation in 2005 as John Smoltz will be back where he made a name for himself in the 1990's. BravesCenter's Bill Shanks talked at length with Smoltz about the pending move back to the rotation and other topics. Here's part one of the interview.

SHANKS: John I heard you in the clubhouse in August doing an interview talking about your desire to return to the rotation. I heard your passion in your voice for getting back to that role. So you must be excited that you are going to get this opportunity.

SMOLTZ: I am. I'm extremely excited. I'm not extremely selfish. That's not the reason. I think it makes us better. I believe in what I can do. When people want to check things out, it's in the proof. It's what I feel has allowed us to get to that level. It's what is getting us in the playoffs. It's what we've been missing when we get to the big games. I just think that's my time of the year and that's the place where stuff helps. If you've got stuff, dynamic stuff, then you've got a chance to limit how hard they hit the ball and how many times they hit the ball. You've got a better chance in a series. Over 162 games that stuff always works its way out, but in a best of seven series it all comes down to power pitching. I can't think of too many teams that won the World Series that didn't have some power pitching they could mix in there. I really can't. The Anaheim Angels may be the only team I can think of and they still had a couple of guys that could mix it up. So I just think that when you look back at who has beat us and how they beat us…we're built for 162 games. I firmly believe that…with the chance to win a World Series. I don't think we're built from the beginning of the season to win a World Series. We got away from the formula a little bit. We lost a lot of great pitching. We started to go with more offense and lost a little bit of defense and come postseason the numbers still remained the same. We didn't outscore anybody and we never got out-pitched if you really think about it.

SHANKS: But you know John that until you pitch a full season there are going to be questions about whether or not your elbow can make it. What makes you so confident that your arm can hold up? Is it just simply how you feel now that you've had these surgeries?

SMOLTZ: Yea. You know it's funny people forget how much experience you have and they forget how good you really were. And they have defined me as a great closer now and they forget how good of a starter I really was. I never liked talking about it because then all of a sudden it looks like I'm talking about me. When you look at my playoff statistics and really dive into it, you'll see it doesn't match up with anybody. I could have literally won every single game I ever started. So from that standpoint I've said whenever I was a starter we never got eliminated in the first round. When I wasn't we always got eliminated in the first round. Now a lot of things change. When I was a starter I pitched eight innings basically almost every game in the playoffs at that time in the year when you're supposed to be already tired. It takes a different mindset and a different mentality. I've always been put to challenges. I love challenges. I've defied a lot of odds and I wasn't really supposed to do what I did as a closer. But everybody assumed because that perspective was, ‘oh he'll be great.' It's like a lay up. ‘He'll be great in that role?' Why? I don't understand that. I went from one role to another role with nothing to gain and everything to lose. That role was harder on my elbow than any starting season I've ever had. I ended up having another surgery on it. It was almost laughable to me when all the experts that said, and no matter what I explained and how I explained it, they thought it was better for my elbow to be a closer. Yet I had fourteen years as a starter and now I'm supposed to know what I'm talking about. So I don't care if I had pitched another five more years as a closer, I was never going to go down in my mind as a closer. I just was a starter filling in. That's the way I look at it. I think about how fate would have changed for the Atlanta Braves. I've pitched three seventh games and I've given up two runs in three seventh games and won one game. If we win all three games…I mean you know if we won that Minnesota (seventh) game, then who knows what would have happened. So people can say what they want. There are going to be doubters. They're not going to be patient and if I don't start out fast, which the history says I never do, it's going to be ‘Why?' and ‘How?' and all of that. It doesn't bother me.

SHANKS: What are you doing now to get ready for the switch back to the rotation?

SMOLTZ: Well this is the first season in a long time I haven't had to have surgery so I've been working my butt off in actually getting my whole body ready versus just one part of my body. So I've been busting it pretty hard. With the last four years I've had a setback every offseason. Nobody has a clue…if I were to write a book personally on what it has been like to throw a baseball the last five years no one would believe it. You just can't believe what happened to me my first year of closing. I had a staff infection in my thumb, six surgeries, fifty needles in my thumb, and I couldn't pick up a ball the whole offseason. I'm not ready when I leave camp. It shows in the first month with my 50 ERA and I ended up with 55 saves that year. So no challenge to me is too great. I've been through everything. If I lose my first five games starting it's not a big deal. I know what it's like to pitch 230 innings.

I'm as excited as I've ever been. There's no way, this being my 20th Spring Training, could I ever think I'd be this excited going into Spring Training.

SHANKS: And not that you necessarily needed it, but that's got to rejuvenate you?

SMOLTZ: It absolutely does. I said at 38 I don't understand how Nolan Ryan and everybody did it. People forget because of the high expectation I have every year I do something that I went from throwing overhand to sidearm in one season. That's like learning how to pitch all over again. What's the difference between going from starter to closer, from closer to starter? Well the difference is because it's never been done really. People assume my elbow is going to fall off. If my elbow would have fallen off, regardless of what I did this year, it was meant to fall off. I'm a year removed from surgery. It's going to get better. I believe it just makes us a better baseball club. You know I know you don't typically pitch against a pitcher when you're pitching against a ball club, but there's a lot to be said for matching up against a pitcher knowing that you can't afford too many mistakes. I think I bring that back into play.

SHANKS: And there's almost a fear factor if you do get back to exactly what you were before that teams are going to have to face.

SMOLTZ: Absolutely.

SHANKS: Not to take anything away from anyone we've had in the rotation the last few years, but since the big three of you (Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux) have not been together, we haven't been that feared team.

SMOLTZ: Yea there's no hiding the fact that nobody has feared us. That doesn't mean we couldn't beat them, but nobody has feared us. There wasn't this, "Oh we're coming into Atlanta and we've got to…" Now we've got the rotation that people are going, "Holy Cow." It changes perspective. It changes. It's the same thing I've always said in the postseason when you've got to face a Randy Johnson or a Josh Beckett or somebody of that stature, they can get beat, but the right away feeling is, "uh-oh." And that's what I've missed most. I've missed matching up against those guys. Kerry Wood. I may not have won those games. But I know this…I know that they would have had to be different based on track records. They couldn't afford too many mistakes.

SHANKS: And a manager has to even plan his game differently when an ace pitcher is out there.

SMOLTZ: Yea. Yep.

SHANKS: With that in mind, with Tim Hudson coming into join you now, what does his presences do for you in taking a bit of the pressure off?

SMOLTZ: Absolutely. People are calling it one of the best rotations (ever). I'll argue that. I think in years past we've already shown we had some of the best rotations ever. Having said that, it doesn't matter where any of us pitch. It doesn't matter where I pitch. Hudson is a bonafide number one or number two. When Hampton's healthy, he's right there. John Thomson is a good three and four. And you've got Horacio Ramirez at five. That's pretty darn good. So it helps but I've been in these situations where we try to take the pressure off of each other from time to time and what I'll do is the same thing I've done in the past. I'll push each other to try and compete where…to outdo the next guy. The only thing you ask the starting pitcher is, "Leave me an out." If you pitch a no-hitter, and he walks three guys, then you've got to pitch a no-hitter and not walk anybody or walk two guys. You're always trying to find a way to one-up the other guys and that keeps you going.

SHANKS: And Horacio has that competitive nature in him as well, doesn't he?

SMOLTZ: He really does. He's been working out hard with my all offseason. He's determined as ever. I think he's going to have a great year if he stays healthy and gets his shoulder strength back. He has seen when baseball is taken away from him what he has to do and how he has to prepare. I think he's going to be much better for it.

Bill Shanks can be reached at Part two of this exclusive interview with John Smoltz will be available tomorrow.

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