PHILADELPHIA - John Smoltz hopes to start a minor league rehab assignment soon and join the rotation during the latter part of May.
Sidelined with elbow tendinitis, he threw from a bullpen mound at Veterans Stadium Friday afternoon and reported no pain in his elbow. It was a positive first step in his comeback, but he didn't throw hard during the 20-minute session and threw only fastballs.
"It went great," he said. "This is the first day of absolutely (no pain). This was a lot more of what I expected."
Smoltz split the session into two sets of 10 minutes and threw about 25 pitches in each set. He'll throw again today, take a day off, then start again. When the team returns home, he plans to be examined again by Dr. James Andrews and if he's cleared to pitch, head out on a rehab assignment.
"I don't want to forget how to pitch," he said. "It's been a long time since I've been in a game situation. Once I do that, I'll be a lot happier."
Even after he completes a rehab assignment, he expects club officials to approach his return cautiously, not wanting to push him too far, too fast and risk another bout of tendinitis.
"If everything goes great, I still think they're going to wait a little while to see," Smoltz said. ...
It's been eight days since reliever Kerry Ligtenberg worked in a game, which is a pretty fair assessment of where he stands in the bullpen pecking order. After allowing three hits, six walks and six runs (14.73 ERA) in his first five appearances, manager Bobby Cox has lost confidence in him and he won't get another chance in a close game.
"It's frustrating because I want to pitch," Ligtenberg said. "But at the same time I want Bobby to be confident and not lose his hair watching me pitch."
Ligtenberg has used his time off wisely. He's worked every day in the bullpen to correct the flaw in his delivery that led to his loss of command and he's feeling confident again.
"Maybe it's good that I haven't thrown (in a game) so I could get myself straightened out," he said. "Mechanically, I've got it squared away. I feel comfortable with where I'm at mechanically."
Now, it's a matter of transferring his bullpen excellence to a game. Cox isn't likely to use him in a one-run game, so Ligtenberg is hoping the offense scores seven or eight runs and gives him a chance to get out of the manager's doghouse.
"When I get the opportunity I've got to go out and throw strikes, get some people out and get back in the mix," he said.
Ligtenberg isn't alone in feeling lonely. Chris Seelbach hasn't pitched since April 7 and Jose Cabrera, claimed on waivers from the Astros April 12, has yet to make his Braves debut. ...
Brian Jordan isn't feeling frustrated, though he has every right to be. Through the first 16 games, there's not another Braves hitter who's made more hard, consistent contact than the right fielder, yet he's plugging along with a .200 average and four RBI.
"I'm trying to find holes, but guys keep making good backhand plays," he said. "I'm probably the best .200 hitter in the league right now."
Since a 3 for 9 start, Jordan has eight hits in his last 46 at-bats, though he hit .273 (6 for 22) during the homestand and has hit in six straight games. But, if he had a hit for every time he hit the ball hard, he'd be hitting .400.
"It's hard not to get frustrated," he admitted. "They'll eventually find a hole, that's what Merv (hitting coach Rettenmund) keeps telling me, so you try not to change anything." ...
While there's plenty of room for improvement from the offense, no one is complaining about the pitching. The staff leads the National League with a .216 opponents batting average and three shutouts, while the starters have compiled a 0.95 ERA over the last eight games.
By the way, the three shutouts in the last eight games is the club's stingiest stretch since the pitchers fired four shutouts in six games from Sept. 19-26, 1998.