John Smoltz Looks Forward To Return To Starting Rotation

Former Braves' Closer Is Healthy And Motivated

Wednesday, February 9, 2005 - by Tim Evearitt
John Smoltz looks forward to the 2005 season as he returns to the starting rotation along side newly acquired Tim Hudson. <i>Click to enlarge photo.</i>
John Smoltz looks forward to the 2005 season as he returns to the starting rotation along side newly acquired Tim Hudson. Click to enlarge photo.
- photo by Tim Evearitt

John Smoltz would have gladly returned to the closer's role again this year - if that is what the Braves wanted. However, there is no way he could have honestly said he wanted to remain a closer.

The desire to be a starting pitcher again was strong. It was also a desire that he at times thought would never be fulfilled unless he gave up his dream of playing for the same organization throughout his Major League career.

Smoltz was granted an early Christmas present. The Braves landed All-Star closer Dan Kolb from Milwaukee with the purpose of moving Smoltz back into their starting rotation again.

Almost two months later and a week before Spring Training begins, Smoltz is still wearing the smile that appeared on that December night. For the first time since 1998, he's going to camp with both a healthy elbow and the assignment of preparing his body to be a starting pitcher again.

"It's an incredible challenge and exciting for me to know I am going to back to starting," Smoltz said. "It is what I like. It's like feeling 25 again going to Spring Training. I have a lot to be excited about."

Smoltz's troublesome elbow forced him into a closer's role late in the 2001 season and his success kept him there through the end of last year.

As he prepares for Spring Training this year, he's stuck to a regimented training program that as he says, "has him feeling as strong as he's ever been."

Smoltz's training has included a lot of throwing. But he says he has thrown off a mound just three or four times during the offseason.

The latest occurrence came on Tuesday morning when he made his first official visit to Camp Leo. He spent some of last week in his native Michigan and attended the Super Bowl in Jacksonville on Sunday night.

While increasing his physical endurance provides the biggest change for Smoltz as he adjusts roles, he's also preparing to regain the mental edge a starting pitcher must possess at the beginning of every game.

For the past three seasons, he's spent most of his time simply trying to get the final three outs. Now he'll be striving to be as close to perfect as possible over much longer stretches.

Smoltz learned how to win while establishing himself as a top starter throughout the 1990s. His career-high 24 wins in 1996 helped him land the National League Cy Young Award. In 26 postseason starts, he's 12-4 with a 2.60 ERA.

It's that desire to be a starter again in the postseason that drives Smoltz more than the chance to become the first pitcher to ever record both 200 wins and 150 saves. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley came the closest, with 197 wins and 390 saves.

Smoltz, who notched his franchise-record 154 saves in basically three full seasons, has 163 career wins.

He plans to pitch at least another three years and never again as a closer.

To reach the 200-win plateau during this three-year stretch, he would need to average just over 12 victories per season.

But Smoltz, who set a National League record with 55 saves in 2002, says he's not worried about the personal numbers that will affect his possible enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
______
Adapted from article on mlb.com website.

Over the past three seasons, Smoltz has been one of the most dominating closers in baseball. Atlanta added All-Star closer Dan Kolb from Milwaukee in an off-season trade.  <i>Click to enlarge photo.</i>
Over the past three seasons, Smoltz has been one of the most dominating closers in baseball. Atlanta added All-Star closer Dan Kolb from Milwaukee in an off-season trade. Click to enlarge photo.
- photo by Tim Evearitt

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