John Smoltz Interview

Braves' starter John Smoltz talks about his return to the rotation for the 2005 playoffs.

Q. Andy Pettitte was talking about last year he kind of played the role of a counselor to the younger players on the team. Do you see anybody on your team right now stepping up and filling that role, taking guys aside and calming down young guys?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Well, there's several. I think depending on position, you have an impact on a player. Obviously, a pitcher will have more influence on a pitcher, than the position players, it's kind of -- gravitates towards the certain player on the team. I think we have a good blend of guys that take care of that, and with eight rookies on our playoff roster, I think more importantly than what we do, they've been told and brought up in the farm system pretty correct. They're pretty mature and handle their selves, you know, from a product of our farm system, managers. I give them a lot of credit, because it's not easy.

Q. Anybody stand out in your mind?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Well, the obvious is, I mean -- they're all -- Brian McCann, to me, is doing something most rookie catchers shouldn't be doing. Whether he's scared to death inside, he's not showing it. (Jeff) Francoeur is obvious. I don't want to say he's the prototypical No. 1, but he's our No. 1 draft choice and a great athlete. He's just living it out. For the others who pretty much didn't know their role coming out of spring training, they had an impact like (Ryan) Langerhans, Kelly Johnson. The list goes on. They're going to gravitate towards certain players - Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones and the likes. Kyle Davies has been huge for us, as well as Blaine Boyer. I think it depends on the person and their personality and how much they're willing to ask.

Q. Could you talk about Roger Clemens. Your thoughts about him, going up against him in Game 2?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Roger Clemens... I know he's done something (laughing). My thoughts are if it was just about me facing him and him facing me, we'd lead the world in strikeouts probably. But, basically when you go in the playoffs, names are one thing; credentials are another. And he has both. You know you're not going to get too much room to work with. My thoughts are I better be on my game. I think Game 4, last time we hooked up in the World Series, he certainly was on his, and he beat us 3-0. Age is not a factor right now. It's more of -- I think we both pitch with our hearts and guts and go after guys, and obviously he's got some hardware that proves it.

Q. Following up about Clemens, if you would have said his style versus yours, what's most notable in similarities and differences?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Well, I think if you look at his career, and I think the latter part of his career he developed a split, I developed a split. I think it became an incredible weapon for him. His control has always been a mastermind power pitcher. If you had to clone somebody on their mechanics and their power and their ability to throw the ball where they want to, he's the guy as far as I'm concerned. For me, I've developed into that. I'm getting more into that area. But I think the similarities are we like to attack with the fastball, but we have pitches that we typically want the hitter to swing at, swing and miss at times. So I think he has the ability to get out of jams, which makes him great at this time of the year. If you can limit the contact, you got a greater chance for success. So the goal is going to be to try to somehow get the ball up, but it's easier said than done when you're out there facing 94 and then the next thing you know he's throwing a split and a slider.

Q. Different parts of the Astros' lineup can do some damage at times. What part looking at it from top to bottom, you've faced these guys a number of years now, what part concerns you the most when you go out there?
JOHN SMOLTZ: The part that concerns me the most would be tracking on the bases for Berkman and Ensberg. The top of their lineup, I feel like I faced Biggio 500 times. We've had our battles, as well as Bagwell. I have ultimate respect for them, predominantly a right-handed hitting club. What scares me is the fact that if you don't make your pitches, meaning I rely on getting right-handed hitters out, they can make you pay. So the key for me is to keep the speed off the bases and then they're a little bit more vulnerable. Much like us, if you keep the speed off the bases, then we're pitchable. Doesn't mean you're always going to win, but the double plays and stuff like that come back into order versus the stolen bases.

Q. What does this farm system put into players that so many players can come and contribute? Is it as simple as just fundamentally sound baseball or does it go deeper and beyond that?
JOHN SMOLTZ: That's a good question. I only spent a short time here. I know that they develop a lot of character and time in their coaches. They put a lot of effort in teaching and teaching them the way to play baseball versus just assuming they're supposed to know. I just think they spend money at the lower level more than most other organizations. They don't have a ton of restrictions on a young player, but they're basically preparing them for stories like this; you never know. For the most part we've had change of nine to ten to twelve players every year. So there's room and there's always room, and to play for the future of the Braves. I give the credit to the coaches in the instructional leagues, the different ways they're able to teach these kids the fundamentals of play -- playing the game is one thing; they've done that all their life. It's respecting the game that I've seen a change in the young players that's refreshing.

Q. Bobby yesterday said you're maybe 90, 95% because of your shoulder. What percentage do you think you are, and do you think the main issue would just be your control and fine-tuning since you haven't pitched for a while?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Well, bring them that -- that brings you back to my school days. I'd like to stay away from an A-minus. I'm somewhere between an A-minus and an A-plus. My control shouldn't be an issue. I've been down this road so many times before. Adrenaline is going to be incredible at this time. You can't duplicate it. You can't go through any regular season game like this. Believe me, the anticipation is what kills me. I have more fun in these games than I have in any game I pitch, so that's not going to be the issue. The issue's going to be will I be able to come out from the start and contain that adrenaline. I've learned how to do that in my latter years. With it being at home and with the idea of this club, you've got to stay and keep it close with this baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, and our chances to win are great. So the first inning, I've always said, is like the previous job I just did. I'm pretty good in the first inning, which means I approach the first inning like the ninth inning. Because when you come out of the bullpen, it's the chance you get to set the tone. Sometimes you can survive and still go on and make up for it, but in the playoffs you have to set the tone early, as we've seen in other playoff games. Leads and runners on base in playoff games are way worse than they are in the regular season. Imagine if we had to do this every time we were getting to start. When you get a runner on, it's like a rally and everything is magnified. I really don't see that being an issue because I've had so much experience with gaps of time without picking up a baseball.

Q. I think you said when you were closing, there was a little bit of a helpless feeling. Can you talk about starting now, the gratification in that?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Yeah, definitely. I think when you talk about Game 1, Game 2, obviously, best-of-five, they're all huge. Best-of-seven, you can avoid a hiccup or get away with a hiccup. I think your starting pitchers dictate some momentum. You can say and everyone can talk about what our bullpen is or isn't and we can talk about what their bullpen is or isn't, it can be a moot point if you don't do the things early you have to do as a starting pitcher. I find irony in different story lines, how quickly they change. Yesterday (Mike) Mussina pitched 5 1/3 innings last night. But 5 1/3 innings is something in a regular season you wouldn't even think was a great outing. But that's how much it matters in the playoffs. So as your starting pitching goes, everything else follows. When you're waiting to make an impact, it's a little more difficult. You may only have one chance in the role I was last year. When you're the Yankees and you have Mariano Rivera, it's little bit different story. He's the cream of the crop.

Q. This is actually a follow-up to that. You talked about how difficult the anticipation is for this start but you've actually waited years to make another postseason start. Can you describe how difficult it is to be waiting for your first start as opposed to sitting in the bullpen waiting, hoping, that you get the ball?
JOHN SMOLTZ: It's a good question. Been about six years, I think, since I've started a game. The last one was, ironically, against Clemens. 3-0 loss against the Yankees, Game 4. The one thing that's been a yearning in my heart is obviously I've, you know -- the numbers that I put up haven't gone away and they haven't been surpassed yet. So that speaks -- I just can't underscore how much mentally you have to be prepared to pitch at this time of the year. Physically, we're all less than 100%, but I absolutely want the ball. That doesn't mean I'm going to win every time, but I really believe I'm going to. I'm sure my counterpart has the same type of mentality. And so it's a little different than like an Opening Day start earlier this year that went a long time, an inning and 2/3, it's a little different than that. It's something that basically I don't think about my next start come tomorrow; I think tomorrow's my last start. That's the way I approach it. I never do that in a regular season. I never worry -- you know, if I'm pitching on Monday, you always have your eye a little bit about pitching on Saturday, every five days. So to wait this long to pitch in a game like this, that's why I don't make a big deal of when I pitch, just the fact that I get to pitch and work as hard as I can to get to this level, it took me 230 innings, which I know a lot of us didn't think was going to happen, including myself. So I needed a little bit of rest to get to the point where I feel like I'm going to be at my best, to have the chance to do everything that I talked about wanting to do. And tomorrow, hopefully, is just one step of many, you know. We've been burdened around here for a lot of things, and it is what it is, and I can guarantee you this: Everybody in the clubhouse is pretty excited because we got eight new guys that don't really realize all that's happened in the last few years. So one thing I know is every postseason game that I've pitched, when I'm done, I know that I've gone as far and as hard as I possibly can do. That's what it's all about.

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