Originally created 07/06/99

Braves notebook: Smoltz returns to disabled list



ATLANTA -- A downcast John Smoltz continued to put the limb in limbo Monday, when he learned he is headed back to the disabled list for the fourth time since the beginning of the 1998 season.

The Braves announced he has a strained right elbow, though Smoltz labeled it the same "inflammation" that landed him on the disabled list in May.

"It needs rest, and hopefully over the period of time it will calm down and I'll be able to resume, but it's just one of those things again where I have to make the most of the opportunity and rest it and not pick up a ball for 10 days," Smoltz said after Dr. Joe Chandler examined his arm during Monday night's game.

"I pitched with it as long as I could and dealt with it the best I knew how, and now it's time to utilize the break and not put the team in 1/8 a bad situation 3/8 ."

The Braves recalled left-hander Bruce Chen from Richmond. Chen received no decision and had a 4.50 earned run average in two starts in Atlanta earlier this season. He went 6-3 with a 3.77 ERA in Richmond.

After struggling through a 7-6 loss to the New York Mets Sunday, Smoltz admitted his frustration over a troublesome right elbow that has bothered him consistently since a May 16 start in Chicago. He went on the disabled list with inflammation after that start, and now he returns--this time possibly indefinitely.

Smoltz said that during his earlier stint on the disabled list he was "impatient" and probably overworked the elbow in side sessions. This time, he plans a more complete layoff. "It's just got to be total rest, not picking up a ball," Smoltz said.

"He can throw the daylight out his fastball, and he's got a good changeup, but it bites him on his slider," said manager Bobby Cox.

Actually, Smoltz said "everything" in his repertoire is bothering his arm. "The easy way out is to pitch only when it feels good, but I don't know if that's too many more times," Smoltz said. "The hardest part is being able to do everything but throw." He acknowledged he is willing to pitch sparingly for the rest of the regular season if it means being better prepared for postseason.

Smoltz was somber enough Monday that when the issue of a potential third surgery was raised by a reporter, he did not immediately rule it out as he has in the past.

"If that's what's got to be done, then ultimately I'm going to be in communication with Joe 1/8 Chandler, team doctor 3/8 , Bobby, and John 1/8 Schuerholz, general manager 3/8 , because that's going to be their decision as well as mine, understanding that I don't know what the future holds," Smoltz said. "I don't know what to expect. I just have to leave it in God's hands." Lopez delayed

Catcher Javy Lopez will not return from the 15-day disabled on Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to return to action, Cox said. During the game, Braves announcer Skip Caray said Lopez had told him he possibly has a small tear in his knee.

However, Lopez took batting practice without pain on Monday and in two conversations with reporters never mentioned a possible tear. He was unavailable for comment after the game. Neither Cox nor Schuerholz said they have been told by Chandler that Lopez has a tear. "I haven't heard that one," Cox said.

Schuerholz acknowledged that the Braves do not know how long Lopez will be sidelined and did not rule out his being lost for the season.

"That's always a possibility, but we certainly hope not," Schuerholz said. "We're trying to let the injury heal itself and let his body mend, and we're monitoring all those circumstances.

Asked whether Lopez's injury could need surgery, Schuerholz said, "I hope not, but sometimes injuries go the good way and sometimes they go the bad way."

Lopez's right knee, strained in a base-stealing attempt on June 20 at Arizona, is still tender enough that he has not attempted squatting into position.

"Hitting 1/8 in the batting cage 3/8 was OK. We'll see about catching and running tomorrow. That's another thing that I have to do to see how it feels," Lopez said. "I'll be able to hit without any pain."

Lopez took indoor batting practice while wearing a newly fitted brace extending from mid-thigh to lower calf. He said he did not know whether a catcher's shin guard will fit over the bulky brace.

"I'm going to go day by day and see how it feels," Lopez said. "I don't want to get in a rush and come out 1/8 too soon 3/8 ."

Meanwhile, Cox confirmed that the Braves have been considering adding a veteran backup catcher if it appears Lopez will be sidelined indefinitely. Jeff Reed, released by the Colorado Rockies last week, is a candidate.

"We've looked at 10 or 12 guys," said Cox, "and Reed was one of them." The Braves will wait to see how Lopez's knee responds over this last week before the All-Star break begins on Monday. Hand it to him

Like any good golfer worth his Big Bertha, Bret Boone's power surge Sunday and Monday nights was attributable to a change in grip.

Boone switched from a more close-fisted grip--with both wrists bent inward--to a more open-wristed grip. He is bending his top wrist out more, rather than locking it in. In fact, his new grip favors a golf grip.

"I'm just trying to create a shorter path to the ball, that's all," Boone said.

Boone homered in each of his first two at-bats in New York, finally bumping his home run total to double digits (10) after a stagnant month of June during which he hit only .178. He added No. 11 against the Florida Marlins Monday.

The change in grip really is nothing more than a return to his approach of last year, when he hit .266 with 24 homers and 95 runs batted in for the Cincinnati Reds. He simply got away from using the open grip until his change "two or three days ago," he said.

"I'm not going to over-analyze anything. It felt good last night," Boone said. "Hopefully, it's a good sign. I've had a tough last month and maybe I'll get started and have a good second half. It was good to break out of it."