<
>

Smoltz will begin rehab assignment with Braves' Double-A club

ATLANTA -- Braves right-hander John Smoltz will test his sore right shoulder as he begins a minor league rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Mississippi on Saturday.

If all goes well, Smoltz could be back in Atlanta next week, reprising his role as the team's closer.

"He'll go one game to start with, maybe two innings," Braves manager Bobby Cox said Friday. "It depends on the number of pitches. Then he'll come back and we'll see where he is."

Smoltz has been on the disabled list since April 29 after also opening the season on the DL due to the sore shoulder.

He will join the minor league club at Tennessee after throwing in Atlanta for the third straight day on Thursday.

"He sure looked good yesterday," Cox said Friday. "We'll see. We just have to see how everything goes and use some common sense."

Smoltz is pitching from a lower arm angle in an attempt to place less stress on his shoulder. He plans to pitch out of the bullpen, probably as Atlanta's closer, when he returns.

"I wish we could clone him," Cox said. "It'd be nice to have him in the rotation and in the pen."

Smoltz, 41, is 3-2 with a 2.00 ERA in five starts. He recorded 154 saves from 2001-04 before returning to the rotation.

Despite concerns about his shoulder and surgically repaired elbow, Smoltz has won at least 14 games and pitched more than 200 innings each of the last three seasons. He was 14-8 with a 3.11 ERA in 2007.

Smoltz displayed good velocity and had good movement on his pitches while throwing to hitters with his new delivery on Thursday.

"What I expect to happen is for him to go down and get comfortable with the arm slot," said pitching coach Roger McDowell. "Obviously John's a different bird, so what he puts his mind to do, he's able to accomplish. That being said, it's a matter of him getting into a comfortable zone where he feels he can come up here and contribute."

Smoltz won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996 when he was 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA.

The Braves also activated catcher Brayan Pena from the 15-day disabled list on Friday and designated him for assignment. Pena has 10 days to be claimed off waivers or traded before he can accept an assignment to Triple-A Richmond.