The Week Ahead: Smoltz returns, a day early

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John Smoltz makes his anticipated return to the mound on Thursday. It
is also his anticipated debut for the Boston Red Sox, who signed him
away from Atlanta in the offseason after the Braves showed somewhat
tepid interest in keeping their aging star.

There is one problem with Smoltz’s return, it would have been a lot more fun if it had come a day or two later.

On Thursday, Smoltz will take the mound in Washington against
baseball’s worst team – the Washington Nationals. On Friday, Boston
begins a three-game series at Turner Field against the Atlanta Braves.

Clearly the Red Sox are easing the veteran right-hander back into things, and Smoltz himself says that’s fine with him.

“I’m not afraid of any challenge or anything that comes about. It’s
just, I’ve got to be realistic to see that this scenario would have
been much more than just a regular first-game start.”

Smoltz already paid respects to his former teammates when the Braves
were in Boston this past week, but it still would’ve been fun to have
them face off against each other. Now the only way that happens this
year is if both teams reach the World Series – unlikely to say the
least.

Meanwhile, Boston fans, already undoubtedly pleased with Dice-K’s trip to the disabled list,
can get excited about adding another strong, veteran pitcher to the
rotation. A guy who has made it a habit to be dominant on the mound, even when injured.

“Even when he’s not healthy, his numbers don’t fluctuate,” marveled
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. “He’s had a remarkable career.”

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH

  • Cardinals at Mets, June 22-25: This four-game set could go a
    long way toward determining whether the Mets can hang with the
    contenders for the rest of the season.
  • Phillies at Rays, June 23-25: A rematch of last October’s World Series. Only this time, Pat Burrell will be wearing the home whites at Tropicana Field.
  • Cubs at White Sox, June 26-28:
    The Cubs enter the week on a four-game winning streak and have climbed
    within 2 ½ games of the NL Central lead. The White Sox have won two
    straight and have climbed within throwing distance of .500.
  • Red Sox at Braves, June 26-28: Smoltz is back in the house, though he won’t pitch for the Red Sox in Atlanta. Unless … anyone want some rain on Thursday?
  • Yankees at Mets, June 26-28: The Subway Series, Part Deux. The
    Yankees took two of three at Yankee Stadium, but now we’re travelling
    to Queens. Will it make a difference? Will A-Rod take a break?

    ON THE TUBE

    Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Cardinals at Mets (ESPN2)
    Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Yankees at Braves (ESPN2)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at White Sox (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Braves (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Angels at Diamondbacks (FOX)
    Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Red Sox at Braves (TBS)
    Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (ESPN)

    *Check local listings

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu will open season in Dodgers’ rotation

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    Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced on Monday that Hyun-Jin Ryu will open the regular season in the starting rotation, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports.

    Ryu, 30, missed the entire 2015 season and made only one start last season due to shoulder and elbow injuries. The lefty has looked solid in three spring appearances, however, yielding a lone run on five hits and a walk with eight strikeouts in nine innings.

    With Scott Kazmir likely to begin the season on the disabled list, that leaves Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy to battle it out for the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ rotation.

    Jorge Soler diagnosed with strained oblique, Opening Day in doubt

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    Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a strained oblique, making it likely that he begins the regular season on the disabled list, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports.

    The Royals acquired Soler from the Cubs in December in exchange for reliever Wade Davis. Over parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Soler hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs and 98 RBI in 765 plate appearances.

    When he’s healthy, Soler is expected to find himself in the Royals’ lineup as a right fielder and occasionally as a designated hitter.