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Inbox: What will Sox do with Smoltz?

Inbox: What will Sox do with Smoltz?

Believe it or not, the first two months of the 2009 season are in the books. It seemed like a perfect time to break out the first Red Sox Inbox of the regular season. Here goes.

What do you think the plan will be when John Smoltz is ready to debut? The six-man rotation fans murmur about at some point each season never seems to reach fruition.
-- Scott R., Guilford, CT

As great as a six-man rotation sounds in December or January, reality tends to set in during the season. Starting pitchers are creatures of habit, and such an arrangement would throw many of these guys off. Josh Beckett, for one, is not a fan of this at all. I don't think it would be something Jon Lester would enjoy, either. At some of the more taxing points of the season, I could see manager Terry Francona inserting a sixth starter as he did with Julian Tavarez a couple of times in 2007.

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What happens when Smoltz comes back? Either another injury develops, or there is a trade. Brad Penny's name has already been churning on the rumor mill. The dilemma of "too many" starters always seems to work itself out.

With outfielder Johnny Damon becoming a free agent this offseason, is there any chance that the Red Sox try and sign him? I know I would love to see him play for us again.
-- Ryan B., Ocean City, Mass.

First of all, it is great to actually hear a Red Sox fan say something nice about Johnny Damon. I've never been able to figure out the animosity that Red Sox fans had toward Johnny after he signed with the Yankees. The Red Sox made Damon a fair offer, and the Yankees offered him $3 million more per season. He made a business decision and went to New York. During Johnny Damon's four years with the Red Sox, all he did was play hard, play hurt and make key contributions.

Anyway, I don't think it would be a fit for Damon to come back to the Red Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury is basically a younger version of Damon, albeit with more speed and less power. I get the sense that if Damon doesn't return to the Yankees, he would like to get closer to his Florida home.

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Question:

Where is left-hander Kason Gabbard? I know we re-acquired him from Texas, and from what I see he's with Triple-A Pawtucket, but he's nowhere to be found on the PawSox roster. What is the plan for Gabbard?
-- Dan A., Merrimac, Mass.

Gabbard is still at extended spring training, getting his arm strength back. He should join the Pawtucket rotation soon. As much as the Red Sox like Gabbard, he is behind Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden in the pecking order at this point. Perhaps he could give the Sox a spot start in a doubleheader at some point this season or resurface as a September callup. I know that Francona and the coaching staff think very highly of him.

Do you think designated hitter David Ortiz will be relegated to the bench during away games in National League parks? How could Francona bench Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell for Oritz while Ortiz's bat has done nothing to justify a defensive downgrade (or an offensive downgrade)? If he does ride the bench during Interleague Play, what would that suggest about his future in the lineup?
-- Dave C., Abington, Mass.

Great question. If Ortiz is hitting like he is right now, I could see him serving as a pinch-hitter for the entire series in Philadelphia, slated for June 13-15. But if Papi starts to warm up, he'll get at least one start. I think that Youkilis will play all three games. His bat has become a must for the lineup. As for third baseman Lowell, this might be a good time to get him a day off, as he hardly gets any. It all depends how things are going at the time. Say Ortiz has finally caught fire. I don't think the Red Sox would then want to sit him and stall his momentum. We will find out in about two weeks.

What is the latest timetable for shortstop Jed Lowrie?
-- Pete W., Bethesda, Md.

Lowrie is making great progress. I could see him being back in the lineup in about three weeks. He is currently doing tee work and hitting soft-toss. The next step will be facing live pitching, and then a Minor League rehab assignment. The Red Sox desperately need him, considering the way things have gone at shortstop.

We heard so much about Lars Anderson during Spring Training. What is the latest with this left-handed-hitting prospect? -- Michael C., Washington D.C.

Anderson is off to a slow start this season. Through 42 games for Double-A Portland, he was hitting .238 with six homers and 27 RBIs. However, he is just 21 years old and perhaps got too much hype too soon. Anderson is a work in progress, but he seems to have the hitting smarts and talent to develop into a pretty good player.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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