U-balz, Hammeltime, dlR and Cook had 2009 WARs of 5.7, 3.8, 3.7 & 1.9 respectively- so suggesting that Smith is currently our 5th best starter isnt meant to be disrespectful, the other guys are just pretty good. That said, I find it troublesome that Tracy is planning on starting him the second game of the season. Given that we have off-days the 8th & 12th of April, they could've held Smith back all the way until the 17th while keeping the other starters on four days rest. As is, Smith (owner of just a career 34% ground ball rate) will make 5 starts in April, including 3 at Coors. If they skipped his turn to keep the other guys on regular rest, he would make 3 starts in April, and only 1 at home.
Tracy seems to think there is an advantage to alternating the handedness of his starters, but I really doubt that it outweighs simply limiting the exposure of your worst pitcher when possible. What's more, Smith will be facing Randy Wolf in that second game- a matchup in which the lefty-dominated rox hitters might struggle to score runs. (In 4 starts versus Colorado last year, Wolf held them to a .205 BAA.)
For what its worth, Smith looked decent in Arizona this spring- but it really feels like the team is needlessly playing with fire here in a division that hasn't had a very large margin for error recently. Francis also might be able to come back after missing only the minimum time to push Smith back to the pen- but that also would mean we could have avoided using him altogether.