Smoltz makes it clear in text message that he's returning as a reliever

Bobby Cox prefers having John Smoltz in Atlanta's rotation but the Braves ace made it clear in a text message to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he plans on coming back as a reliever.

"I am planning on coming back as a reliever first, and more than likely for the rest of this year," Smoltz said in a text message to the newspaper late Wednesday.

Smoltz's text message makes it clear that -- at least for the time being -- when he returns from the disabled list, he plans on being a reliever.

"I hear people say that we can't win without me as a starter," Smoltz told MLB.com. "But we're not going to win with me as a five-inning starter either."

Cox, for one, believes Smoltz should start.

"In order to win big, John needs to be in the rotation," Cox said.

The 40-year-old Smoltz went on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with an ailing right shoulder. He began the season on the DL with tightness in the back of his shoulder, but after being activated, he went 3-1 with an 0.78 ERA in his first four starts.

An examination by doctor James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala., found a severely inflamed biceps tendon and inflammation of the rotator cuff in the right shoulder. While surgery wasn't prescribed, Smoltz seems resigned to pitching the rest of the year in some pain.

"Right now I'm sitting at ground zero, taking it day by day, looking at every option to help this team get to the playoffs and end my career the way I'd like to end it," Smoltz, the only pitcher in major league history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves, told the newspaper.

Smoltz, the 1996 Cy Young Award winner, became the 16th hurler to reach 3,000 strikeouts in his career this season.
The last three years as a starter, Smoltz was 44-24 with a 3.22 ERA.

Smoltz's initial stint as a reliever began midway through the 2001 season as a way to help him better cope with his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He handled the role full time over the next three years, a highly successful stint that included an NL-record 55 saves in 2002 and a microscopic 1.12 ERA in 62 appearances the following season.

Left-hander Mike Hampton, meanwhile, left a rehab start at Triple-A Richmond in the fourth inning when he was bothered by his injured chest muscle.

"Maybe he came out just in time," Cox said.

The manager was hoping Hampton could pitch for Atlanta on May 10 but said now the team will have to "wait and see."

Hampton allowed one earned run and three hits, along with two walks and four strikeouts, in 3 1/3 innings. He had thrown 71 pitches when he was forced out in the middle of facing a batter; he was supposed to be on a 75-pitch limit.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.