As the Curve Turns: Smoltz, Padilla give the senior circuit a shot

By Ted Cahill

Maybe Dave Duncan is a genius. Maybe the Red Sox gave up on John Smoltz too early. Maybe the Green Monster scared him. Maybe Fenway Park was too small. Maybe pitching in the AL East was just too much for a 42-year old.

Whatever the reason, Smoltz didn’t work out in Boston. But he seems to be off to a good start in St. Louis. Clearly it’s a small sample size, as in one start. But if Smoltz had given the Red Sox five shutout innings every fifth day, he’d still be eating clam chowder.

It would be easy to write off Smoltz’s good debut for St. Louis as a testament to the horrific offense of San Diego, but Smoltz didn’t even pitch well against bad teams in Boston. Baltimore touched him up for 12 runs in 15 innings and Oakland plated five runs on 10 hits.

Smoltz struck out nine Padres, his most since last April. And he did all of this in just 75 pitches. Smoltz isn’t the dominant pitcher he was in the mid-‘90s, but he’s got to be better than what he was in Boston, which was awful.

The concept of picking up a 42-year old pitcher who’s had two and a half good outings all year concerns me. There are better options out there for most of you. I wouldn’t take Smoltz over any of the six pitchers I outlined last week, but he is intriguing.

Smoltz will get another chance against Washington on Saturday. In his Red Sox debut, Smoltz lost to the Nats, allowing five runs in five innings. This time around he might fare better. If he turns in another outing like Sunday’s people will really take notice. If you’re looking for starting pitching, Saturday’s start is an important one, because you might have to move quickly to put in your waiver claim on the former Cy Young winner.

Another debut: Speaking of pitchers getting another chance in the NL, Vicente Padilla makes his Dodgers’ debut Thursday at Colorado. Again I don’t advise you pick him up this week (pitching in Coors Field scares me), but it’s worth watching.

Padilla has eight wins this year and a not-so-great ERA of 4.92, but he’s a serviceable starter. With the Dodgers you can expect him to keep winning and maybe he’ll even behave himself under Joe Torre. In his warm up start in AAA Albuquerque, Padilla struck out five in five innings, allowing two runs.

Also escaping the horrible pitching conditions of Arlington should help lower his ERA. In his career, Padilla has fared better in the NL, cutting almost a full run off his ERA in the senior circuit.

Skidding aces: San Francisco is attempting to return to the playoffs for the first time since losing the World Series in 2002, but their twin aces of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are finding it tough going.

Neither Lincecum nor Cain has won in three weeks, a stat so unbelievable I had to double check it myself. Cain actually hasn’t won in the month of August and Lincecum has gone since August 1 without a victory. They aren’t pitching poorly, combined they are only 0-3 with a 3.31 ERA. Cain even threw nine shutout innings, but came away with a no decision.

For owners of either pitcher, this shouldn’t really be cause for concern. At the start of the season no one expected the Giants to actually support these guys, so it was assumed wins would be hard to come by. But all the San Francisco fans out there should probably be freaking out. There is no way this team makes it to October if Lincecum and Cain continue to go four or five starts between wins.

Pitcher Pickup of the Week: Jonathan Sanchez, Giants
Since announcing his return to the Giants’ starting rotation with a no-hitter, Sanchez has pitched very well. He’s 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA in eight starts. As always, Sanchez’s problems have come from poor command, but even that seems to be coming around. He’s probably going to walk three or four hitters a game, but manages to work around that by limiting opponents to a .161 average.

This week he’ll start against Arizona Wednesday at home. This season he has pitched excellently against the Diamondbacks, allowing just one run in 13 1/3 innings. He’s also struck out 10 hitters, but walked 11 (seven in one game). The start also comes in AT&T Park, where Sanchez has been great this year, posting a 3.63 ERA and 50 strikeouts to just 22 walks in 53 innings.