Ever since John Smoltz returned to the Braves starting rotation, the team has been without a competent closer. First it was Dan Kolb. Then Chris Reitsma. Now…who knows? The team doesn’t seem to have any viable options. So fans are clamoring for Smoltz to return to bullpen. But Smoltz tells the AJC he isn’t having any of it:
“I’m not moving back anywhere,” said John Smoltz, a former All-Star closer who blew only eight of 108 save opportunities during 2002-03, his first two full seasons as closer.
That’s five fewer than Reitsma has blown in 36 opportunities since the beginning of last season, and only one fewer than Dan Kolb had last season, when he blew seven of 18 save opportunities.
Since moving back to his preferred starting role in 2005, Smoltz has gone 18-10 while leading the Braves in ERA (3.23), starts (45), complete games (five), strikeouts (230) and innings (312).
Of course, the problem with moving Smoltz to the bullpen is that it would create a glaring hole in the Braves’ already weak starting rotation. Hudson has been mediocre this year. John Thompson has fallen apart. Jorge Sosa has been bad. Kyle Davies has had his moments, but has yet to establish that he can be consistent. Smoltz is the lone bright spot on the staff, and even he hasn’t been his usual dominating self.
The thinking among fans is that, come the trading deadline, there is more likely to be quality starters available than a quality closer. Maddux, Zito or Willis could give the Braves’ starting pitching depth, while Smoltz could sure up the bullpen. But even if the Braves decide to go that route (and they won’t), what does the team do between now and the trading deadline? By then it might be too late. They are already 7 games back of the Mets and just lost their fifth game in a row, making them 1-7 on their current homestand.