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

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.

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