Strong bullpen ses­sion has Smoltz con­fi­dent about 2008

Smoltz to make first ap­pear­ance on April 6

The Covington News - - Sports - By Charles Odum

KIS­SIM­MEE, Fla. — John Smoltz threw in the bullpen for about 20 min­utes as if pre­par­ing for a game on Thurs­day and called the ses­sion his “best day” of the spring.

Smoltz said he is on track to make his first start on April 6 and said he had no re­cur­rence of the shoul­der stiff­ness he suf­fered on Fri­day, forc­ing him to be held out of a sched­uled start.

“I just needed some time for it to settle down. It has set­tled down,” Smoltz said. “Now I’ll approach it like any­thing else. I’ll take two days off, come down here and throw and just have my eyes on my next start on Sun­day.”

Smoltz is ex­pected to start the sea­son on the dis­abled list, but be­cause he hasn’t ap­peared in a ma­jor league game since March 15, his time on the dis­abled list can be back­dated nine days.

Thurs­day’s bullpen ses­sion pro­vided as­sur­ance Smoltz won’t have to miss more time than planned. He played soft catch in the out­field when he tested the shoul­der for the first time on Tues­day, but he threw with nor­mal ef­fort on Thurs­day.

“I was throw­ing like I was pre­par­ing for a game,” he said. “The ball came out of my hand re­ally good to­day. I’m a lit­tle be­hind on the con­trol of some of my pitches, but that will come.”

Smoltz plans to come back to the Braves spring com­plex to throw in a mi­nor league game and re­main on sched­ule for the April 6 start in At­lanta against the New York Mets. The Braves, who open their sea­son on Sun­day at Wash­ing­ton, have an off day on Tues­day and won’t need a fifth starter be­fore the April 6 game.

Smoltz, 40, left Thurs­day’s bullpen ses­sion with re­newed con­fi­dence for his sea­son and said he is de­ter­mined not to worry about the pos­si­bil­ity the dis­com­fort in the back of his right shoul­der could re­turn dur­ing the sea­son.

“It could but I’ve just de­cided I’m chang­ing that approach. I’m chang­ing that mind-set,” he said. “I’m go­ing to go out this year and have a re­ally good time. I’m go­ing to have a blast and hope­fully win a lot of games along the way. I’m not go­ing to get con­sumed like I did be­fore.”

Added Smoltz: “I’ve got a lot of pitch­ing left. I can get caught up in some­times think­ing too much.”

Smoltz orig­i­nally was sched­uled to pitch the Braves’ home opener on Mon­day against Pitts­burgh af­ter Tim Hud­son pitches in Sun­day’s game at Wash­ing­ton. In­stead, Tom Glavine was moved up to the Mon­day game and rookie Jair Jur­rjens will be the team’s third starter, fol­lowed by Mike Hamp­ton.

Smoltz was 14-8 with a 3.11 ERA in 2007. He has pitched more than 200 in­nings in each of his three years back in the ro­ta­tion af­ter serv­ing as the team’s closer for four years.

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