Report: Smoltz willing to take on bullpen role when healed

John Smoltz, who dominated the National League as a closer for 3½ years, is willing to return to the Atlanta Braves' bullpen when he comes off the disabled list, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Smoltz, who was placed on the 15-day DL on Tuesday with inflammation in his right rotator cuff and biceps tendon, said "Yes" when asked about becoming the Braves' closer again, the newspaper reported.

"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," he said, according to the report.

Later Wedenesday, in a text message, he said "I am planning on coming back as a reliever first, and more than likely for the rest of this year," the Journal-Constitution reported.

After saving 154 games as a closer, including an NL-record 55 saves in 2002, Smoltz went back to being a starter, a role he prefers. But the condition of Smoltz's shoulder, along with injuries to Braves relievers Peter Moylan and Rafael Soriano, have the pitcher willing to try the bullpen again, the newspaper reported.

Braves manager Bobby Cox, however, prefers having Smoltz in Atlanta's rotation. That doesn't mean Cox isn't open to talking about having Smoltz return to the bullpen after his stint on the disabled list.

Asked Wednesday whether Smoltz could go back to being a closer, Cox said: "We are always thinking about it."

In the next breath, Cox added: "I like him as a starter."

Asked how serious the discussions about Smoltz's role had been, Cox said: "Who knows until we get the results of all this?"

Smoltz won't be doing any pitching for about a week. He's been ordered to refrain from picking up a baseball for between five and seven days, according to the report.

Smoltz was examined in Birmingham, Ala., by Dr. James Andrews, who diagnosed a severely inflamed biceps tendon and inflammation of the rotator cuff in the right shoulder. The 40-year-old pitcher went on the DL retroactive to Monday.

"I won't rush back," Smoltz said, according to the newspaper. "I'll use the best judgment to do what it takes to come back and be successful. The last thing I want to do is bounce back and forth on the DL.

"I will be fine. The team will be fine. And the next time I throw will be because I'm ready."

Smoltz's right shoulder has been a concern since spring training. He started the season on the DL with tightness in the back of the shoulder. After being activated, he went 3-1 with an 0.78 ERA in his first four starts, also becoming the 16th pitcher in baseball history to reach 3,000 strikeouts. He's the only pitcher with at least 200 wins and 150 saves.

But Smoltz had trouble delivering his pitches in New York, prompting him to seek out Andrews' advice. The diagnosis was made after the pitcher had an MRI exam and a CT scan.

In other Braves news, second baseman Kelly Johnson was a late scratch from Atlanta's lineup against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday because of tightness in his back. Johnson, listed as day to day, was replaced at second by Ruben Gotay, and in the leadoff spot by left fielder Gregor Blanco.

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.


Cox said he thinks the Braves will call up LHP Jo-Jo Reyes from Triple-A Richmond to start against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.