Smoltz hits the links, with eye on U.S. Open

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john smoltz headshot red sox.jpgEven though he has yet to find a team interested in his services for the 2010 season, John Smoltz isn’t ready to call it quits. He might, however, be getting a head start on a post-baseball career on the golf course.

Smoltz, a future Hall of Fame pitcher who is working as a broadcaster for MLB Network and Turner Sports while he ponders retiring from baseball, is preparing to play in his first U.S. Open local qualifier next Monday. He’ll be among 9,000-plus golfers playing at 111 different courses, all with a dream of playing in the U.S. Open.

If he makes it out of the first round, he’ll compete in a 36-hole sectional qualifier event held at 33 different courses on June 7. Only a few from that round will play in the U.S. Open.
Smoltz, 43, tells Mark Bowman of MLB.com that he doesn’t expect to be among the handful of players to end up qualifying for the major.

But he’s no slouch as a golfer, and he’s taking it very seriously as valuable experience in his goal to someday play on the Champions Tour.

“The other day somebody asked what I thought my chances of qualifying were and I said, ‘They’re impossible,” Smoltz said. “But I still feel like I can do something neat.”

With a 2-handicap and the confidence created by multiple rounds of 65 that he has completed this year, Smoltz will tee off at the Marietta Country Club in Kennesaw, Ga., next week with the understanding that he is at least capable of advancing to the next round.

“I want to see what it’s like,” Smoltz said. “Maybe I’ll throw a strange number out there and then see what happens. It’s really just an experience. This year, I really haven’t been able to wake up and gear up to compete like this. It’s going to be fun. “

Smoltz is correct in thinking his chances of qualifying for the U.S. Open are highly unlikely. He’ll be facing a field filled with college stars, club pros, seasoned players who have lost their PGA Tour cards … guys who play golf all the time.

Smoltz has handled the big stage plenty of times in his baseball career, but this is – literally – a whole new ball game. Still, I’ll be rooting for him to do well. After all, his attempt will be much cooler than this.

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Steven Matz to skip next spring training start with elbow issues

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Mets’ left-hander Steven Matz will miss his Grapefruit League appearance on Monday after experiencing soreness in his left elbow, according to a report by Mike Puma of the New York Post. Matz reportedly first felt discomfort in his elbow on Wednesday after pitching four innings against the Marlins, but a medical evaluation revealed no structural damage.

Still, it’s unsettling news for the 25-year-old, who is coming off of an injury-riddled 2016 season. Matz pitched to a 3.40 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 8.8 SO/9 during his sophomore campaign with the Mets, but his success was hampered by a bevy of shoulder and elbow issues that culminated in season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow.

Comments from Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson indicated that while the club doesn’t believe anything is significantly wrong with Matz’s elbow this time around, the setback could have an impact on his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster. Until he’s cleared to return to the mound, the club is expected to take a longer look at rotation candidates Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.