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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Pedro Martinez: “If I was pitching, I was going to drill Machado, as much as I love him.”

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On Sunday, Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes was ejected for throwing at Orioles third baseman Manny Machado‘s head. It was revenge for a slide of Machado’s which ended up injuring Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Barnes was suspended four games.

Hall of Famer and former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez said that if he were in Barnes’ shoes, he would have also thrown at Machado, although not necessarily at his head. Via ESPN’s Scott Lauber:

If I was pitching, I was going to drill Machado, as much as I love him. The only thing I would’ve done differently is probably bring the ball a little bit lower.

Martinez added that Machado “did not intend to hurt Pedroia. And I know that because I know Machado.” And he doesn’t think Barnes meant to throw at Machado’s head.

Martinez, of course, was certainly a pitcher who wasn’t afraid to pitch inside to batters and even hit a few of them when he felt he or his teammates had been wronged. This is an unfortunate part of baseball’s culture and the fact that it continues means that it will eventually result in someone being seriously hurt. It’s disappointing that Martinez isn’t willing to be a better role model now that his playing days are over. Martinez could have set an example for today’s pitchers by saying what Barnes did crossed a line. Getting a Hall of Famer’s seal of approval will only embolden players now when they feel they must defend their teammates’ honor.

The “tradition” of beaning batters to defend one’s teammates is anachronistic in today’s game, especially when Major League Baseball has made strides in so many other ways recently to protect players’ safety.

Struggling Francisco Rodriguez’s job seems to be secure

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Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez continued to struggle on Thursday, allowing a run in a 2-1 loss to the Mariners. It’s the sixth time in nine appearances that the right-handed veteran has allowed a run, bumping his ERA up to 6.23. He’s blown two saves and has two losses on the year.

Despite that, it doesn’t sound like Rodriguez’s job as the Tigers’ closer is in any jeopardy, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. When asked how much of a leash Rodriguez has, manager Brad Ausmus said, “I’ll let you know.” Ausmus continued, “I think people have short memories. This guy did a pretty good job for us last year. Early on, people were worried because the velocity was down. Well, the velocity is back.”

“But at some point,” Ausmus said, “he does have to pitch the way he pitched last year, because he did an outstanding job for us last year and in a city that has been looking for a closer that was consistent for a long time, he was that.”

Rodriguez, 35, doesn’t have the stuff he once did. And the Tigers do appear to have someone who would be a better option in high-leverage situations. Lefty Justin Wilson has thrown 9 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings so far this season with 15 strikeouts and three walks. But for now, it sounds like Rodriguez will be free to work through his issues.