Smoltz close to joining Red Sox, but in what role?

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John Smoltz turned in another strong minor-league rehab outing over the weekend,
tossing six innings of one-run ball at Triple-A. He now has a 1.56 ERA
and 13/2 K/BB ratio in 17.1 innings spread over four rehab starts, and
reportedly could be just one more successful appearance away from
debuting with the Red Sox.

“He’s getting closer and closer, you can see it,” manager Terry
Francona said. “Even the way he talks about it, he’s not rehabbing
anymore. He’s attacking hitters and making pitches, which is good to
hear.” While he’s pitching well, it’s still unclear what the Red Sox
plan to do once they decide that Smoltz is ready to join the rotation.

There are some rumors that Boston has been shopping Brad Penny, who has a 5.85 ERA in 11 starts, but Rob Bradford of WEEI.com lays out a scenario
for keeping both starters around by skipping some of Smoltz’s initial
turns in the rotation or possibly even using him as a reliever. To his
credit, Smoltz sounds willing to take on whatever role the Red Sox
want:

I want to be ready every five days. We talked about it, there may be
a time where I have to miss a start. Those scenarios play out so many
different ways it does me no good trying to figure them out. I just
want to be ready. I’m in a position to be readily available to them, in
whatever capacity or role that means. I’ve done [relieving] my whole
career and I could do it again. But it hasn’t been brought up to me.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t exactly starving for relief help either,
as the bullpen leads all of baseball with a 2.76 ERA. Lost in the
speculation about what the Red Sox will do with Penny and Smoltz is
that they also have Clay Buchholz waiting in the wings at Triple-A and
the 24-year-old right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA, 57/12 K/BB ratio,
and .159 opponents’ batting average in 10 starts there. Not bad for a
No. 8 starter.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with left ankle injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.