The bad news -- not only for the Atlanta Braves but perhaps also for the National League -- is that ace pitcher John Smoltz is headed back to the disabled list.
For the third time since the beginning of last season, Smoltz has been diagnosed with an inflamed right elbow and placed on the disabled list. He will miss three starts as he rests for the remainder of the month. Each time he has returned from the disabled list in recent years, he has been extraordinarily effective, however. Last year, Smoltz went 13-2 with a 2.51 earned run average after his second stint on the disabled list ended on June 20.
"It's a precautionary thing," said Smoltz, sporting a bandage where team doctor Joe Chandler had drained two cubic centimeters (cc's) of fluid. "If it were two or three months from now, I'd pitch. But Bobby (Cox) and the doctors don't want to take a chance. I've got a long season ahead of me."
A magnetic resonance imaging test revealed no structural damage, said Smoltz, who is 5-1 with a 2.59 earned run average in eight starts. "It's not at all anything to worry about," Chandler said. "He just needs a little down time."
The Braves called up veteran Russ Springer for immediate availability in the bullpen. Springer is returning from surgeries on his back and elbow in the off-season.
The club faces another move before the end of the week, however, as it plans to option someone to Richmond to make room for Bruce Chen. The left-hander, who lost the fifth starter's spot to Odalis Perez in spring training, was set to make 30 pitches during a regularly scheduled start with AAA Richmond on Monday night. He is expected to start Friday's game against the Chicago Cubs in Atlanta.
Manager Bobby Cox had to force Smoltz onto the disabled list. In their second meeting of the day, Smoltz was still trying to convince Cox to let him make his next scheduled start on Friday, but Cox stood firm.
"It's just that he's such a great pitcher ... I just don't see the need to push it right now," Cox said. "It's just a matter of using my best judgment. If it's September he could make his next start."
Smoltz's elbow has undergone two operations to remove bone spurs and bone chips. After recovering from his first surgery, he went 24-8 and won the Cy Young Award in 1996. After recovering from his second surgery, he went 17-3 last year and became the winningest pitcher in the majors over the last three years.
Smoltz will miss scheduled starts on May 21 against Chicago, May 26 at Milwaukee and May 31 against Colorado. He said he began feeling irritation in the elbow while battling through a difficult start in cold and windy 3-Com Park in San Francisco on May 10. It grew worse in Chicago on Sunday, when he was so visibly altering his delivery that third baseman Chipper Jones went to the mound to ask him his condition and to tell him his body language was noticeable.
"I'd be lying if I said it doesn't frustrate me," Smoltz said. "Physically, I'm going to be fine. Mentally, it's going to be another couple of days to deal with another minor setback. ... God has given me the strength to deal with it (before). For whatever reason, it's happened." Nixon replaced