WASHINGTON Whether it was nerves, rust or age or a combination of the three John Smoltz had a rough debut inning for the Boston Red Sox.
The 42-year-old right-hander allowed four of the first five batters to score before settling down in his first major league game in more than a year. The Washington Nationals hit him hard by pulling pitches high in the strike zone the first time through the lineup, scoring all the runs they would need in tonight's 9-3 victory.
Smoltz, who spent all of his previous 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, tried to relax by playing cards in the clubhouse before going to work in an American League jersey for the first time. The jitters appeared intact, however, when he needed 34 pitches to get through the four-run first.
After that, Smoltz (0-1) looked more like the pitcher who has 210 wins and 154 saves. He gave up a run in the third, but retired the side in order in the second and fourth and fanned all three batters he faced in his final inning. His final line: five innings, seven hits, five earned runs, one walk, one hit batter and five strikeouts in 92 pitches.
Smoltz's two decades in Atlanta essentially came to an end last June, when he had surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. The Braves didn't re-sign him when he became a free agent at the end of the season, so he joined the Red Sox with a one-year deal and made six rehab starts before coming off the disabled list to start tonight's game.